Remote bosses: recipe for lower employee engagement?

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Managers who work remotely are likely to give less feedback, make their employees feel less empowered, and create employees who are less satisfied with their employment than those in the office full-time, according to a recent study.

The results suggested that the impact on employees whose managers worked remotely for a portion of the week were less positive compared to those whose managers had a full-time presence in the office. Worse still were the engagement levels of those employees whose managers worked out of the office full time.

The study revealed that the manager’s work mode affects the level of employee:

  • feedback
  • task clarity
  • empowerment
  • professional development
  • workload
  • job satisfaction
  • turnover intentions
  • work climate

The degree to which employees are affected by their bosses’ work mode was also found to be dependent on the flexibility of their own working conditions.

Communication between employees and managers who telework or work virtually were found to contain “fewer contextual indicators”, which hampered accurate interpretations and fostered misunderstandings.

Notably, employees and managers who both work virtually encounter fewer communication difficulties.

“It may be that managers who work virtually are especially attuned to the benefits and difficulties of working away from the office owing to their own absence from it, so that extra effort is made to accommodate subordinates who work away from the office as well,” the researchers stated.

In contrast, when it is managers alone who telework, the report suggested that the reason for lower engagement levels among employees may be because managers become too focused on balancing their work realms, that it may result in failing the needs of those under them.

More than 11,000 US-based corporate employees were surveyed in the joint study between the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and GfK Custom Research, and three managerial work modes (traditional, telework and virtual), were studied to investigate which work mode was most favourable to employee work outcomes.

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