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Lattice Insights: Employees Struggling With Work-Life Balance During COVID-19

May 6, 2020
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How are employees handling the global health and financial crisis? It’s complicated.

Last month, Lattice released a crisis response survey template to make it easier for our 1,850-plus clients to check in on employees. After collecting and anonymizing the results, we found there was a disconnect between how employees felt their companies were handling the crisis — and how they personally were.

Support for Companies, Leadership

First, the good news: Employees felt that their companies and leadership teams were responding well to the pandemic. Using a five-point Likert scale, ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree,” individuals responded to our crisis response survey template most favorably to the below prompts. Note that the highest possible score is 100.

• I believe my company is taking appropriate steps to minimize disruption. (91)
• My manager has effectively responded to my needs. (88)
• I have the hardware and software I need to work effectively. (87)
• I trust senior leadership to make good decisions regarding the health crisis. (87)
• My manager has checked on my wellbeing in the last seven days. (87)

Despite news of widespread furloughs and closures, employees haven’t lost faith in their organizations just yet. Teams report feeling well-equipped from a technological standpoint to do their jobs. That may come as a pleasant surprise given that, in Lattice’s separate survey of HR professionals, 70% of respondents said their companies didn’t have an emergency plan in place prior to the outbreak.

Customer data also suggests that managers are stepping up — reassuring news to HR teams who identified them as essential partners in a separate survey. Employees noted that managers are communicating clearly (84) and that leadership was showing genuine care for their wellbeing (85).

Work-Life Balance Concerns

Of all the challenges facing companies right now, HR teams ranked morale as the most pressing. Lattice customer benchmarks suggest those concerns are well-founded. When employees are asked to reflect on their own wellbeing, average responses take a negative turn, dipping as much as 30 points. Below are the survey prompts that employees disagreed with the most.

• I feel motivated to show up to work every day. (76)
• I am able to maintain meaningful connections with my work friends. (75)
• I feel supported to adjust my schedule to accommodate caregiving needs. (72)
• My stress level is manageable. (69)
• I am encouraged to take time for myself during the workday. (57)

While employees feel like their managers and executive teams are handling the crisis well, they have serious concerns about their own wellbeing. Under the weight of a global crisis and sudden change in the way of working, employees report feeling disconnected, demoralized, and distressed. Work-life balance seems to be of particular concern, with some respondents sharing that they aren't able to accommodate caregiving needs or take time for themselves during the day.

While events outside of work partly account for employees’ stress levels, nearly all the lowest-scoring items were connected to either remote work or work-life balance issues. Call it a case of workplace culture shock — prior to the outbreak, 60% of companies had 10% or fewer remote workers. Overnight, the equation flipped: 60% are now completely remote. 

Addressing the Problem

Though studies show that remote workers are typically more engaged than onsite peers, these aren’t typical circumstances. When entire industries go remote overnight, employees and managers are forced to adapt to a new, sometimes ambiguous way of working. What researchers call the “body-in-seat” mentality isn’t sustainable in the middle of a global crisis. Employees may feel pressured to seem busy at all times. Their managers, unsure of how to respond, might be inclined to check in too often.

In an effort to improve morale, HR teams have turned to virtual happy hours, yoga sessions, and other creative solutions. But while data shows that these are appreciated, they might not be addressing the problem directly. Nathalie McGrath, an HR veteran and co-founder of The People Design house, shared her thoughts in a recent Lattice report.

“Having a complete remote culture requires a different type of discipline from both your HR team as well as your team as a whole. Being explicit about processes, expectations, rituals, and company objectives are the ingredients of any strong organization and are even more critical when the team is distributed,”  she said. When norms and expectations aren’t clear, employees are less inclined to take that lunchtime walk or disconnect at the end of the workday. “Anticipatory stress,” or the mere expectation of after-hours emails or Slack messages, can also contribute to high-stress levels.

Setting or changing norms is a massive undertaking. According to McGrath, managers might be the best-suited to tackle it. “In a completely remote culture, the manager's role is amplified as they not only have to be the steward of their team’s output, but they also own the engagement and happiness of their employees. Things like one-on-ones, team meetings, and remote collaboration become even more important,” she said. Managers are empowered to set the tone and shape work culture through their actions. By encouraging reports to take time for themselves, disconnect, and acknowledge that it’s fine to not be operating at 100%, they’ll set an example.

“Employees want to follow leaders who care about more than just the bottom line. Leaders and managers who are able to lead with both empathy and business acumen will thrive in the coming months,” she said.



Learn how HR teams are adapting to unprecedented times by downloading Lattice's new report, How People Teams Rose to Meet a Global Crisis.