‘Managers are human too’: leaders left lonely by hybrid working | Management

Three years since the first Covid lockdown, the UK’s managers are finding the office a lonelier place, despite relishing the better work-life balance that comes with more flexible arrangements, a new survey finds.

Many previously office-based roles now allow for remote working, after the approach was proven to work during the pandemic, when the government was urging the public to stay at home.

In a survey of more than 1,000 line managers, carried out by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) last month, 52% said the prevalence of working from home means workplaces have now become more lonely.

More than half of respondents, 58%, said their work-life balance had improved since Covid; but 44% also suggested their job had become more stressful – against 24% who said it had not.

Anthony Painter, the CMI’s director of policy, said the findings underlined the challenge of ensuring teams can form human connections.

“There’s a gathering awareness that there is a cost to an entirely remote workforce, and it’s the social trust and social bond element,” he said. “That probably explains some of the elements of stress and loneliness that are coming across in that survey – managers are humans too, at the end of the day.”

A clear majority of the managers surveyed – 70% – also said that with fewer people in the office, they had seen a decline in socialising with work colleagues.

Painter conceded that not everyone enjoys after-work drinks; but suggested such events can sometimes perform an important role. “You’ve got to know and like the people you work with; people need to feel a sense of connection and loyalty and a bond. So anything that helps with that is important,” he said.

Alice Arkwright, policy officer at the TUC, said despite the shifts evident in the CMI survey, the majority of people’s jobs in the UK have remained unchanged, in the three years since Boris Johnson ordered the first lockdown.

She called for other forms of flexible working to be made available, for those who are not able to work online.

“There are so many other forms of flexible working, even where it’s not possible to do remote working: compressed hours, annualised hours, jobshares, part-time, mutually agreed shift patterns,” she said.

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“People showed enormous amounts of flexibility during the pandemic, and we haven’t seen that kind of reciprocal flexibility from employers in every job.”

The concerns expressed among managers in the CMI survey appeared to echo recent research by Prof Nick Bloom and coll from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US, which showed that managers were significantly less enthusiastic about hybrid working than their staff.

In a controlled experiment among the Shanghai-based employees of travel agent Trip.com, managers were less likely to take up the opportunity to work from home when offered it, than staff without managerial responsibilities.

And among those who did trial working from home two days a week, managers were more likely to quit than their counterparts doing five days a week in the office – the opposite result to that seen among non-managers.

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