Working from home is a positive – some thoughts for business

Working from home is often portrayed as the holy grail of work-life balance and the way to alleviate, if not eradicate, work-related stress. It offers maximum flexibility, an opportunity to focus without interruption, and no time spent contemplating the meaning of life whilst sitting in endless traffic jams!

A working utopia indeed?

Some would have argued yes and all the research, up until now, seems to suggest that, but with millions of workers in the UK now in an enforced home working situation due to COVID-19, the situation seems less blue sky and more black clouds. Given that we know any forced change for employees is known to result in feelings of helplessness – where individuals display a passivity to the change because they have no control over it – the major concern is how this helplessness response will manifest itself over time.

Feelings of helplessness often lead to a behavioural response known as learned helplessness, a response where – even when we do have control over a situation – we generalise the expectation that nothing we do will change the outcome.

This learned helplessness is known to contribute to depression and anxiety and workers already experiencing these issues, combined with enforced isolation and the associated loneliness being experienced by many home workers, mean that proportionally more workers are likely to find themselves affected. Complicating matters even further is the knowledge that this behavioural response is often viewed as a vicious cycle – people often struggle to find solutions to move beyond these feelings and so the cycle begins again.

So – what does this mean for businesses?

Crisis management has been the priority up until this point, and rightly so, keeping businesses operational and trying to stick to ‘business as usual’ has been the main focus. However, business leaders now need to consider the impact on their workers.

Many workers will have knowingly and willingly accepted the home working situation, but over time their capacity to experience feelings of learned helplessness will be increased and exacerbated due to the conditions of enforced isolation. The longer-term outcome may well be the impact it can have on how people react to changes in the future and indeed whether people look for opportunities to change.

At this point, and to try to minimise feelings of helplessness, workers need:

  • a participative approach to decision making;
  • a leadership communication style that encourages discussion and debate; and
  • communication structures that encourage feedback and choice.

All of which will at least allow people to feel as if they have an element of control and influence over their working lives – even if they don’t have any control over where they work!

Dr Rowan Steele

Dr Rowan Steele, Lecturer, Human Resource Management, The Business School

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *