91 per cent of employees are adjusting to the new work situation despite missing their colleagues.

By Amy Ripley (PR & Communications Manager), Published (Updated )

New research for HR specialist SD Worx by Cass Business School and IESE Business School has found that 91 per cent of European workers who have been required to work from home during the pandemic are adjusting to not seeing their colleagues face-to-face and are broadly accepting of the changes needed.

The research team conducted a survey among 2,500 white-collar workers in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain to find out how they are coping with the new form of working one and a half months after the lockdown. The research focused on the lack of face-to-face interactions with colleagues by identifying which forms of grief white-collar workers are experiencing now that they generally must work from home.

Grief is a process that arises when a person loses someone or something, in this case contact with colleagues in the office. Each individual responds differently to such a loss, but the associated emotions can be divided into five stages: denial, anger, depression, exploration, and acceptance. Denial, anger, and depression are stages that are considered pessimistic, while exploration and acceptance are classified as the optimistic stages of grief. Usually, people experience several of these emotions at the same time.

Over one in three struggle with feelings of depression or sadness

Acceptance (91 per cent) and exploration (83 per cent) are the stages that UK employees experience the most. This means that most of them can put the lack of face-to-face contact into context and are able to look forward. Even so, more than one in three employees (43 per cent) are experiencing feelings of depression or sadness while 37 per cent indicate they are reluctant to work without direct contact with colleagues; it gives rise to anger. Four out of 10 white-collar workers experience feelings of denial.

"People seek continuity," says Dr Annelore Huyghe of Cass Business School in London. “The lockdown interferes with that process. Although full-time teleworking allows for role continuity, it disturbs relationship continuity. Our research demonstrates that we are social beings who need face-to-face contact with others. For many, spontaneous meetings in the corridor or chit-chat at the coffee machine are an important social ritual.”

Dr Jeroen Neckebrouck, of the IESE Business School in Barcelona, adds: “They strengthen the group feeling – the feeling of being connected to others – and hence have a positive impact on employees' well-being. And this is precisely why office environments will continue to play an important role in the future of work."

Age and routine play a role

Age plays a role in the differences found, especially when it comes to pessimistic grief. In the six European countries where the survey was conducted, young people experience more pessimistic feelings of grief than those over the age of 40. Among white-collar workers under the age of 30, 38 per cent experience denial, anger or depression. Between the ages of 30 and 40, this figure is 36 per cent, but above 40 it falls to 29 per cent and among the over-65s it is only 25 per cent of the respondents.

What is the best way to deal with these feelings of grief? Introducing a structured daily routine when teleworking appears to be beneficial. Of those employees who have introduced a well-structured routine for teleworking, 81 per cent experience optimistic grief feelings and only 23 per cent experience pessimistic grief feelings. White-collar workers without a structured routine, on the other hand, experience more pessimistic grief feelings (38 per cent) and fewer optimistic grief feelings (74 per cent).

"Over the past few months, teleworking has more than proved its worth," says David Schoonens of SD Worx. "It will undoubtedly be a much bigger part of how we work in the future. However, the corona crisis has taken away all face-to-face contact with colleagues from one day to the next, and for many this has proven to be a loss that employers certainly need to consider. After an extreme situation of 100 per cent teleworking or forced temporary closure, organisations rightly ask themselves where the new balance will lie. Those that take the needs and preferences of employees into account are already one step ahead in 'employee engagement'. This ‘new normal’ will differ from company to company. In any event, it is best to provide solutions that are safe, productive and legally sound. In this way, all employees will be able to return to the office or workshop with peace of mind."

About the survey

SD Worx, Cass Business School in London and IESE Business School in Barcelona jointly conducted a survey in Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom into white-collar workers' experiences of teleworking. A representative sample for the local labour markets in these countries completed the survey (3,384 white-collar workers). The focus was on 2,595 employees still working at the time of the survey and therefore not temporarily furloughed.

Find out more about Dr Annelore Huyghe's research here.

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