Management Work From Home

The unseen affects of the return to office

Full disclosure: I had planned on posting a different article but recent events in my personal life led me to choose to write and post this article and bump the planned article until next month.

Employers are forcing either a partial (hybrid) or full return to the office on employees, much to most employees’ chagrin.  The threat of Covid-19 doesn’t just stop with the employee, now they are risking their loved ones as well by going into the office.  This not only puts unneeded stress on the employee, but might force hard working loyal employees to leave the company for full remote work to protect their loved ones.

Effects on the family

When employees are forced back into the office the employees family is now at risk of exposure by proxy.  While the employee is in the office they are constantly at risk of exposure to Covid-19, the problem is they won’t know they’ve been exposed until after they have returned home and exposed their family.  This not only puts unneeded stress on the employee, but puts stress on the family of that employee.

Some employees may also have family members with medical conditions that leave them susceptible to higher chances of mortality as a result of contracting Covid-19.  By forcing the employee back to the office they are indirectly forcing risk on the employees family members.  These are people who don’t truly have a say in the matter, of course they can ask the employee to find another job, but that’s not always possible.  The CDC lists the following conditions as more likely to lead to hospitalization or death:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic lung diseases
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Dementia or other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • Disabilities
  • Heart conditions
  • HIV infection
  • Immunocompromised condition or weakened immune system

As you can see it’s not an uncommon list of ailments and it doesn’t even include small children or the elderly, who are more susceptible to complications from Covid-19.

Stress on the employee

The knowledge that one could catch a disease and transmit it to an at-risk family member causes unneeded stress on the employee that has many effects.  First, stress weakens the immune system and makes the employee more susceptible to disease.  Second, stress can cause burnout, leading to employees having poor performance, taking more time off work, or deciding that they need to find a new fully remote job.  This is all exacerbated by employers imposing high requirements on the already stressed employees, and you have a higher chance of burnout and resignation.

Legal Questions

Forcing a return to office also opens the employer up to legal problems.  By forcing employees back into the office, employers are opening themselves up to lawsuits from employees if they catch Covid-19 and transmit it to an at-risk family member who then gets seriously ill or dies.

Of course employers have contracts with employees that shield them from legal action but that doesn’t mean employees who feel the employer is at fault won’t find a lawyer willing to at least attempt a lawsuit.  While the employer may be covered by the contract with the employee it will result in legal fees, and time lost on revenue generation, and the cost of onboarding and training a replacement for the disgruntled employee.

The Solution

The flexi model is the best of both worlds.  Employees who don’t feel safe going back to the office, or are just more productive at home, have the option to continue working from home.  And employees who like being in the office, and feel more productive in the office can come in any time they wish. 

Even though online tools have made remote collaboration more effective than ever, employers will still wish to have “face-to-face” collaboration.  Again we find a middle ground, once quarterly in office meetings where employees can take precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones, and employers can get their “face time” with employees.

Obviously some employees will wish to continue working from home but will not be able to meet standards for performance.  This is where the flexi model agreement should have a clause that stipulates the employer can require the employee to work from the office for a period of time to increase their performance while providing reasonable accommodations to maintain the health and safety of the employee.

For a more detailed explanation of the flexi model please see this blog post by Breathe HR entitled What is Flexible Working?

Conclusion

As stated in previous posts The case for continuing work from home and Hybrid work is doomed to fail, employers who don’t embrace work from home are doomed to fail.  Employees will value their health and their loved one’s health above a job that forces them to put those at risk.  Flexi models are the clear solution to retaining high performing, loyal employees.  Those who don’t embrace a flexi model will be left with unmotivated, disloyal employees who will only serve to hurt your business.

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