Helping refugees get into business: the value of mentorship

Business Impact - Helping refugees get into business: the value of mentorship

Giving back strengthens the sense of purpose that should be at the core of a leader’s mantra.’ Entrepreneur, Syd Nadim, discusses the benefits of becoming a mentor and learning from those who, typically, face a great many more challenges than most

Refugees can often be a forgotten, neglected group in our society, particularly in the business landscape. Young male refugees, in particular, often face a negative and unjust perception, despite just wanting to live an ordinary life and achieve their professional ambitions like everyone else.

Being a business leader, I have always acted as a mentor to those starting up in their career, so I was overjoyed when the opportunity arose to coach a young man, named Mahmoud, in support of his ambitions through Migrant Help‘s Dream Academy programme.

I didn’t come from a wealthy background. I had a difficult upbringing and at 23 I was made redundant and faced extreme challenges when seeking a new position. If I had not received a a startup loan from The Prince’s Trust [a UK charity focused on young people] I wouldn’t have had the chance to achieve the successes that I have accomplished.

It is all too easy to be ignorant of the struggles and barriers faced by refugees wanting to get into business in the UK, so it was important for me to be part of the solution and aid Mahmoud with the skills required to help him achieve his mission in creating his window cleaning business.

Passing on business skills

My mentee, Mahmoud, has faced barriers which initially prevented him from setting out on his business venture. Some of these challenges have included access to resources, education, finance and professional networks. Despite these obstacles, Mahmoud’s drive and determination to upskill and achieve his aspirations inspired me greatly, reinforcing my desire to help those less fortunate to start working towards building their future prospects.  

Migrant Help’s Dream Academy enables entrepreneurs to pass on transferrable business skills to migrants wanting to enter the workplace. The scheme consists of one-to-one mentoring sessions that are designed to help refugees and those seeking asylum identify and take the steps needed to achieve their goals.

There are still many who believe that you must come from wealth to be successful and grow a business, but this is far from the truth. Psychologist, Angela Duckworth, hit the nail on the head when she said that all successful people had one thing in common – grit – and this psychological trait is often put forward as a key tenet behind success. Grit is essentially a mixture of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long-term goals. ‘Gritty’ people stick to their guns and are unperturbed by any obstacles or hardships they may encounter.  Mahmoud had grit, tenacity and passion and just needed that helping hand to give him the foundations and guidance on how to start out in the business world.  

Why I mentor refugees

Mentoring has not just positively impacted my mentee, but it has also changed my outlook as a leader. Giving back strengthens the sense of purpose that should be at the core of a leader’s mantra, and I have found it greatly rewarding to play a small part in making a big difference. Business shouldn’t be solely focused on profit and it’s vital to tap into B Corp principles to ensure that you don’t lose sight of your intention and core values.

Mentoring also helps you to increase self-awareness and strengthen your communication skills. We can all learn from each other, regardless of our working title or situation in life. It’s also important not to get too caught up in work and lose your sense of purpose.

I have found mentoring to be rewarding and it feels amazing to positively transform someone’s life and help them start to achieve their career ambitions. Everyone deserves opportunity and refugees typically face more challenges than the average person, so I am keen to encourage and inspire other people in senior positions to dedicate a small amount of their time to be a part of the solution.  

The current cost of living crisis in the UK has presented further hardships for people wanting to start working towards achieving their business dreams, so it has never been more crucial for business leaders to share expertise with refugees to help them on this journey. 

Seeing the hope inside yourself

Oprah Winfrey once said: ‘A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.’ This really resonates with my aims and ambitions through joining the Dream Academy initiative. Far too often, refugees lack a vital support network and fall through the cracks of society when all it can take is some simple guidance to reinforce their self-belief and help them achieve the greatness they are aspiring towards.  

Syd Nadim is the Executive Chairman and Founder of UK digital agency, Clock.

Headline image credit: Chris Turgeon on Unsplash

How can Business Schools develop leaders that embody the change needed in the business world?

Business Impact: How can Business Schools develop leaders that embody the change needed in the business world?

What makes the difference between those of us that simply complain and those of us that endeavour to make things better, for people and the planet? David Lewis and Jules Goddard, co-authors of Mavericks, look at leadership characteristics and other important aspects for Business Schools to focus on

Let us start with two observations. First, almost every executive and management team with which we’ve ever worked has had no difficulty in articulating numerous frustrations about how their organisation is run; and equally no difficulty in expressing their great ideas about how it should be run. Second, when we have had the opportunity to return to these organisations a year later and ask the same question – ‘what are your frustrations and thwarted ambitions?’ – we are met with the same list we heard a year earlier. 

Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, refers to this as the ‘knowing-doing gap’ – most of us know that things should be and could be much better, but few of us do anything about it. The knowing-doing gap, coupled with the two observations above, provoked us to initiate a research project. Why? Because we also observed that while most of us simply moan about how bad things are, some of us actually do something about it. And the question we wanted to explore is, what differentiates those of us that recognise incompetence, inadequacy and lack of ambition, but do little about it, from those of us that dedicate our lives to making positive transformational change for the betterment of others?

Rik Vera is one such person. Rik started his career as a teacher, but after being made redundant because the school at which he taught was closed down, he started a career in carpet sales. In Rik’s own words, he saw sales as a competition: ‘How can I win against my competitors?’ 

The classic model of business competition. Then he was asked to take over and run the carpet manufacturing plant. On the first day, when he walked into the factory and saw the inefficiencies, the pollution and the inhumane working conditions, Rik was shocked. 

As a result of being asked to run the factory – the place where the product is made – his mindset changed from seeing the point of business as to win, to the point of business as being to create ‘a better world for people and planet’. This became Rik’s life philosophy. He asked a new and different question – instead of the question being, ‘how can I win?’, Rik asked himself, ‘how can I make carpets in a sustainable way in terms of the planet, the use of resources, and the way in which we work?’ 

In research, published in our book, Mavericks, we interviewed more than 30 people like Rik – people from all walks of life and from across the world, to discover what it takes to persist and succeed in making the world a better place.

Making better use of brains and technology 

There are no shortage of challenges that need our attention to make the world a better place: the World Bank has estimated that nearly half the world’s population live on less than $5.50 USD a day; 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization; and in a period of unprecedented wealth creation, prison populations have doubled, trebled and, in some countries, quintupled. We could go on. Yet, more than at any time in our history, we have the resources, the ingenuity and the technology to enable everyone to live a fulfilling and flourishing life. The question is, where are these resources and why are they not being fully deployed for the benefit of us all? Where are our best brains? Who owns the latest technology? To what extent is our human ingenuity, creativity and innovation being used? 

The answer is that the best brains are your brains, the best technology resides in your organisations. The question is how we can make better use of our brains and technology to make the world a better place. 

This is not a question to be outsourced to a supplier, the government, or shareholders… or whoever else you want to make responsible; it is a question for you. So, what are you doing to make best use of those resources? And the question we want to explore here is how can Business Schools help people to make best use of those resources and create more worthy value? 

Business Schools have traditionally taken an accountancy view of what we mean by ‘value’ and ‘cost’. The problem is accountancy does not take into ‘account’ many of the costs involved in creating value – the unintended negative value created for one group in pursuit of creating value for another, referred to by economists as externalities. Externalities are unpriced effects that arise from the production and sale of goods and services. Air pollution from vehicles, aircraft and container ships, is one example. The cost of this is not paid for by either the producers or the consumers of specific products and services, but is paid for by the rest of society, in the form of ill health and treatment for example. We are all made worse off by pollution, but are not compensated by the market for this damage. 

This is one of the main reasons why, in democracies at least, governments intervene to attempt to rebalance using, for example, carbon offsetting programmes, regulations around the percentage of components in production that must be recyclable, and so on. But while this intervention from government is helpful, if not critical to safeguard people and planet, what if businesses and Business Schools took on more responsibility for this rebalancing? What would this mean for Business School curricula? What would it mean for the kind of leadership executive programmes should promote?

Here are some thoughts that we believe could radically transform Business School curricula and create the leaders we need to create the world we all want to see and live in.  

What is ‘good’?

A few years ago, we were struck by the absence of philosophical thinking in shaping and informing our modern-day management and organisational practice. We had this image of a two-legged stool, an unbalanced situation – something was missing. As we thought about it, we realised our organisational thinking is derived from two very impressive bodies of knowledge: economics and psychology. Economics asks the question, ‘how can we make efficient use of scarce resources?’ Psychology asks the question, ‘how can we get other people to do what we want them to do?’ But neither of these two great disciplines contain an ethical point of view at their heart. This is what is missing.

You only have to think of some of the language used. Economics refers to people as factors of production, just like land and capital. And the human resources department? They refer to you and me as human resources. Management speak is punctuated with the words ‘buy-in’, ‘engagement’ and ‘motivation’. What does this mean? It means buying into what I think is right; it means being motivated to do what I want you to do, and it means being engaged with my agenda.

Economics and psychology have worked miracles. To take just one example, 500 million people have been lifted out of poverty in 30 years in China through capitalism, or ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. We have the wonders of the internet, space travel and the robotic lawnmower. Yet in the west, in Asia and increasingly in Africa, as we become better off, we are left with the question, ‘how do we know if what we are doing is good?’ How do we know what is ethical? These are philosophical questions.

Philosophy is the discipline that asks the questions, ‘what is ‘good’?’ ‘what is the right thing to do?‘ and ‘what is the right way to do it?’ Philosophy is the third leg of the two-legged stool that can balance the incredible power of economics and psychology by asking the critical question, ‘what is the ethical dimension of business?’

In our 2019 book, What Philosophy Can Teach You About Being a Better Leader, we use philosophical thinking to challenge standard management practice and ask, ‘what do we mean by organisational values?’ ‘what do we mean by empowerment?’ ‘what do we mean by authority?’ and ‘how do we approach communication and change management?’ These are questions that should be at the centre of executive education in Business Schools – not because there is a clear formulaic answer that we can teach, but because these are the questions that define the paradoxes and dilemmas of leadership. 

How do you decide between options, all of which are part good and part bad, depending on the stakeholder perspective you take and how do you resolve conflicting values? 

The classic Business School approach is to insist on developing organisational values. And yet when you look at almost all organisations’ values, you’re struck by two things. One, they look exactly the same, and two, they seem to have been distilled into five statements, sometimes four, sometimes six. This is an impoverished view of values. There are many values that all of us hold dear, but we know that our values alone do not give us the answer, they generate the question. How do you reconcile the need for transparency with the need for confidentiality? How do you reconcile the need to be honest and the need to be sensitive? How do we square the circle? 

There is no prescriptive answer, there is no set of rules. It is a moral dilemma. It must be addressed in each instance in dialogue and conversation. It requires judgement and an answer to the question, ‘how do I decide between two competing goods?’ A decision you have to live with, to argue for, and to justify, in terms of your moral framework – that is a leadership decision. To make decisions and collaborate within a morally pluralistic world, to engage with others whose values may be different – not better or worse, but different. This is the job of leadership. This is where we need to place more emphasis in our Business School curricula.

The mindset and skillset of purposeful leaders

During our conversations with Rik Vera and others who have made a consistently positive impact on their organisation or community, what became clear was that despite their very different personalities and situations, they shared a common set of characteristics. We identified five core characteristics of these ‘Mavericks’, or individuals who persist and succeed in making positive change happen: 

1. A passionate belief that things should be better.

2. Resourcefulness to connect people and ideas to create momentum towards a better outcome.

3. Preparedness to challenge the status quo and act in unorthodox and nonconformist ways to get things done.

4. The ability to learn and make progress through trial and error, and through experimentation.

5. The ability to remain undeterred in the face of ridicule, resistance and sometimes outright hostility.

As part of our quantitated research, we asked a control group of executives from organisations across the world to rank themselves with respect to these five mindset/skillset characteristics. Then we compared the results to how our Maverick leaders ranked themselves against the same five characteristics. Both the Mavericks and the control group had strong beliefs that things should be better. This confirms our opening observation that almost everyone, Maverick and non-Maverick alike, believes that things could be better in their organisation or community. 

On the next characteristic, resourcefulness, a gap emerged. The Mavericks saw themselves as more resourceful, 10% more resourceful than our control group. With respect to nonconformity, an even bigger gap emerged. The Mavericks saw themselves as 20% more nonconformist. A still bigger gap emerged on the next characteristic, with Mavericks demonstrating themselves to be 25% more experimental. The biggest gap came in relation to the final characteristic of being undeterred – the Mavericks rated themselves as being 27% more undeterred than those in the control group. 

What differentiates the Maverick from the non-Maverick is the extent to which they are resourceful, nonconformist, experimental and undeterred. This is what makes the difference between those of us that simply complain and those of us that endeavour actively to make things better. So, what should Business Schools do to help more of their students become Maverick leaders? Our advice is that they should focus as much on the following as they do on strategy and finance.

Life philosophy

In our Schools, we should help executives to strengthen and articulate their life philosophy, their higher purpose of being. It was clear that each of the leaders we identified as being a Maverick had a philosophy of life that drove them, shaped their high-level goals and informed their day-to-day activity. Here are some examples:

I just want to help people feel better, and wanting people to know that they are cared for and loved… I always had a sense of fighting for the underdog and the importance of justice.’ Annmarie Lewis.

I have a real burning passion to stimulate brilliance in people, it’s as simple as that.’ Akin Thomas.

Giving back to my country [Mexico] my people, and all the wonderful things that I have received. It is my responsibility, my duty, to make a positive impact.’ Oscar Corona Lopez.

Diverse networks 

Maverick leaders do not work alone. Neither can they afford to be surrounded by people like them. Maverick leaders build open and diverse networks and engage with others with curiosity. We need to help executives develop the skills of curiosity and empathy. As one of our Mavericks, Annmarie, explained, it is about cultivating fertile ground by making connections with different stakeholder groups, in government, in business, in academia, in communities. Annmarie is going where she can get traction, where her nonconformity and her radical perspective can be taken up, developed and pushed forward with others.

Growth mindset and self-efficacy

These leaders embody the growth mindset, a term introduced by US psychologist, Carol Dweck, and reject the fixed mindset. They are adaptive but never defeatist. They judge by outcomes rather than just intent. Their optimism is often irrational. What they fear is not failure but fatalism. 

A growth mindset is not a genetically fixed characteristic, nor is it determined one way or another by early nurture. It can be, and needs to be, developed and strengthened in all of us, at every stage of our career. A growth mindset fuels self-efficacy. Unlike self-esteem, which is a judgement of one’s own self-worth, self-efficacy is an existential commitment to one’s own capacity to build a worthwhile life. It is a promise to oneself, not an assessment of oneself. Over the course of a well-lived life, it tends to strengthen as the sense of personal accountability also strengthens. 

In summary, Business Schools can do so much more to develop leaders that embody the change needed in the business world by: helping leaders to understand, explain and manage paradox; develop and articulate their life philosophy; develop their curiosity and the diversity of their networks; adopt a more experimental mindset; adopt a growth mindset; and facilitate transformational conversations.

David Lewis (left) is a Guest Lecturer at London Business School and Hult International Business School.
Jules Goddard (right) is a Fellow of London Business School.
David Lewis and Jules Goddard are the co-authors of Mavericks: How Bold Leadership Changes the World (Kogan Page, 2022).

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: February 2022-April 2022).

Researching the employment market: five steps to finding the right job

Business Impact: Researching the employment market: Five steps to finding the right job

Get some advice on finding the right role for you as well as ways in which you can network effectively and increase your chances of a successful application, in this extract from Get That Job: CVs and Resumes

To find the right job and present yourself in the best possible light at interview, you’ll need to research industry trends and find out as much as you can about the companies you want to work for.

Step one: do the research

In the early stages of your research, you should begin by researching industry trends.

In a nutshell, you need to look out for:

  • Major growth areas
  • Major and up-and-coming players
  • Key challenges, opportunities, or potential problems for a given industry

If you are not sure which industry you want to work in, there are several good references and reports on attractive jobs and desirable companies. For example, look at the Financial Times website which provides well-organised information about trends in various business sectors. The Economist website contains extensive articles on business worldwide.

Look also at the websites of the top Business Schools – these give guidance on where to go and which directories to look at.

Step two: go from a macro to micro level

A: Research your chosen companies

The next step is to narrow your research by gathering information about the companies you would like to work for.

Aim to find out:

  • The size of the organisation (sales, profits, market share, numbers of employees)
  • Its mission statement
  • The company’s strong and weak points
  • Its key partners
  • Its key competitors
  • Information about the organisational culture
  • How the company is organised
  • Its key strategic challenges
  • The subject of recent press releases

Also, use social media and networking sites, like LinkedIn, to learn as much as you can about the company, the sort of culture they have and the type of opportunities they offer.

B: Speak to current employees

Once upon a time, the only way to talk to someone at a company that interested you would be if you had a direct connection with it, via family, friends or location. The internet has made it possible to do this from the other side of the globe, knowing no one, if necessary. Use social media and networking sites, such as LinkedIn, MeetUp and Xing, to find people who work at the company, tell them you are interested in working at the same place, and ask them if they’d be happy to have a quick chat over email or social media.

Also, get in the habit of telling everyone you know what sort of work and/or opportunity you are looking for, and ask them if they can help. It’s really important, in a job search, to seek out any connection you can find and it’s often surprising how easy it can be to have a chat with someone helpful. Be prepared, of course, to do the same for them when necessary.

Step three: think about the job you want

When you are looking for a specific job in a specific company you will want to know:

  • What qualifications are needed?
  • What would my tasks and responsibilities be?
  • What is the typical salary for a job like this?

If you can gather information ahead of time, you will be better prepared for your covering letter, your CV, and your interview. If the job has been advertised, then the tasks and responsibilities will have been listed. If you know for sure that there is a job opening, ask the company to send you a copy of the job description.

Step four: make the most of everything available

A: Job alerts

Many recruitment agencies or career-related websites offer an online service to both job hunters and companies trying to fill a vacancy. For job hunters, registering your CV online is a quick and easy process, and means that should an interesting vacancy arise, you can ask the agency to submit your CV quickly.

In addition, take advantage of email job alerts, in which agencies or career websites email you when a job that meets your specifications comes on the market. This is another quick and easy way to keep on top of job opportunities in your particular market.

B: Network

Networking is one of the best ways of getting a new job and finding out about potential openings. The internet has revolutionised the way that people can keep in touch with each other, and one of the simplest ways to use it for networking is to email people on your contact list.

You can ask them about industry trends, potential job openings, or for specific contacts within an organisation. Other ways of networking on the web include:

As with all other types of networking, though, remember to:

  • Thank people for their time and help when they get back to you
  • Offer your help to other people as much as you possibly can
  • Be patient

Step five: be organised

Create your own database of organisations you are targeting and keep track of information you have gathered about each. Record any job-search actions you take for each organisation, such as dates of letters and CVs you have sent, what form of CV you used, dates of phone calls, and who you spoke to and what was said.

*

One common mistake to watch for is to ensure that your research is not patchy. If you don’t thoroughly research the industry, the company, and the job, gaps in your knowledge may jeopardise your chances at an interview. If you can demonstrate that you have done your homework, you will stand out from the crowd and will have a better chance of being offered the job.

This is an edited extract from Get That Job: CVs and Resumes – how to make sure you stand out from the crowd (Bloomsbury Business, 2022).

BGA members can enjoy a 30% discount off the RRP for Get That Job: CVs and Resumes. Click here for details.

Five steps for tackling the transition from Business School to career

Business Impact: Five steps for tackling the transition from Business School to career

In the face of an unknown future, it can help to have a mindset rooted in curiosity about what is possible in new terrain. Marketing professor, Joan Ball, outlines five ways to prompt enquiry, exploration and learning

In a world filled with promises of quick or easy answers to life’s most challenging questions, I wish there were five easy steps I could offer to set you off on a well-marked path to success, post-graduation.

Unfortunately, after nearly 15 years of working with students transitioning from university to career in my research and practice, one thing is clear – there is no single path, best practice or model for professional and personal success in the 2020s. You are graduating into an environment where commitments and priorities are constantly shifting and changing. One where opportunities (and challenges) abound and no single map, compass or true north is available to guide your way.

In this uncharted territory, careers are increasingly nomadic, and the future of work is being co-created in practice, as organisations and the people who keep them afloat are called on to adapt to new tools, tactics and approaches to living in a paradoxically predictable and unpredictable postdigital world.

Some people find this realisation exciting. They are inspired by the freedom and creative potential of uncharted territory and the adventure of blazing new trails in their professional and personal lives. These are the people who embrace uncertainty and ambiguity as a prompt to explore. For others, the lack of stability and predictability is unsettling – even threatening. They long for clear markers on well-worn paths that lead to a clearly defined notion of a successful career and life. In either case, the space between university and career is a liminal space between the highly structured life of the university and the multitude of possible ways to move forwards beyond graduation.

In this new environment, embarking on the career journey is less about following prescribed steps and more about developing and adapting practices and principles that are customised to amplify our unique strengths, address our particular challenges and guide us on a path towards our context-specific aspirations in ways that are relevant to the lives we hope to live.

For many of us who were trained in systems that favored finding a true north and relying on models, frameworks and best practices as our compass, this can feel daunting. Many students I work with describe themselves as feeling lost, overwhelmed or stuck at this point of inflection – even though they are excited and eager to embark on their career journey.

Fortunately, uncharted territory is just as navigable as a clearer path if we gather resources and develop the principles, practices and approaches we need to engage uncertainty with curiosity, confidence and humility. This involves shifting from a traditional navigator mindset (‘GPS, tell me where to go!’) to a wayfinding mindset.

Wayfinders mindset

The wayfinders mindset is rooted in rigorous self-awareness and a curiosity about what is possible in new terrain. I offer the following prompts as a place to begin. Not so much a set of steps, but more a stepping off point that I hope will prompt enquiry, exploration and learning in the face of an unknown future.

1. Stop: you are entering liminal space

You’ve spent the past 22+ years studying, preparing and having your life reset every quarter, semester or trimester for as long as you remember. This rhythm of life and the prescribed routines surrounding them (registering for classes, studying, preparing for exams) are now over. You are no longer a student, which is a huge identity shift. You no longer have the prescribed timelines and approaches that were created by your university.
Making the shift to a new identity and a new direction is not something that always happens intuitively at points of transition. This sort of disjunction can be unsettling and lead to incendiary emotions. Pausing to acknowledge the change and give it consideration prompts us to shift from a mindset that views the future as a problem to solve to a mindset of discovery. Doing so can help temper the threat we sometimes feel when we’re not sure what to do next and help us to embrace uncertain transitions as invitations to learning. This makes it easier to approach change with dispassionate curiosity rather than fear-based reactions.

2. Ask: what is the new terrain I am entering?

Once we’ve paused and set an intention to engage transition with dispassionate curiosity, we can reflect on who we’ve become and the particulars of the current state of the world we’re entering. You are not the same person you were when you entered university. Who have you become? Are the aspirations you had when you started the same as they were then? What are you clear about? Where is your sense of who you are and what you want murky?
No judgement here, just enquiry and taking a clear-minded inventory of who we are, where we are and what is possible. Once we have a sense of ourselves, we can do the same for the state of the world we’re entering. It is not the same as it was when you entered university. Making time to get the lay of the land can help spark ideas about what comes next.

3. Ask: what resources do I need to navigate this new terrain?

Open an enquiry into what resources you have or don’t have. What strengths do you see in yourself as you enter this transition? Where do you have gaps and holes? How might you connect to the emotional, physical, material and social resources you need to amplify your strengths and reinforce areas where you feel less prepared?
Gathering the right resources to enter the uncharted territory of your life, post-graduation, is as important as gathering resources for a backwoods hike.

4. Ask: what do you hope for as I enter this new terrain?

What are your aspirations? Have they changed since you entered university? Are you still not sure? Acknowledge that having a clear sense of what’s next is sometimes available and that, at other times, we are exploring. Neither is better or worse than the other, but each invites a different wayfinding approach.

5. Explore: how do I find my way in this new terrain?

Wayfinding is an art – and a science. Entering into the transition from Business School to career with the open-minded creativity of an artist and a scientist’s structured willingness to experiment, learn and build on learning can provide a framework for engaging in uncertainty as an adventure in learning, doing and exploring rather than finding the ‘right’ answer to living a good life. This is a critical orientation for entering this next stage of your life – and every uncertain transition you face in the future.

Joan P Ball is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Peter J Tobin College of Business, St. John’s University in the US. She is a transition expert, holds a PhD in international business management and is the author of Stop, Ask, Explore: Learn to Navigate Change in Times of Uncertainty (Kogan Page, 2022).

 

Headline image: Greg Rakozy on Unsplash.

How to spot signs of proximity bias in the workplace

Business Impact: How to spot signs of proximity bias in the workplace

Proximity bias – in which managers favour employees who are in view and on site work over their remote counterparts – is an outdated phenomenon and damages businesses, says Jungle HR CEO, Teresa Boughey. Here are five things to look out for in your workplace

For many of those who have been in the workplace for longer, hybrid working has required some significant adaptation. However, for people entering the job market now it is something they have come to expect. The majority of recent university graduates completed their degrees online during the pandemic, and then fell into remote jobs. They have come to assume that employers should provide more flexibility and understand that remote working is a perfectly viable alternative to attending the workplace.

Even so, people still often unconsciously default to thinking about work as a physical space and therefore prefer employees to be in the office. As graduates enter new jobs, they must learn to balance both their own preferences with the expectations of their employer. One central aspect to this will be learning to gauge attitudes within the office: how far does the preference for in-office working, often referred to as ‘proximity bias’, go?

Keeping an eye out for proximity bias

Proximity bias is an unconscious tendency to give preferential treatment to those in our immediate vicinity. It is the idea that businesses or managers and leaders believe that those employees who are in close proximity and physically on-site work harder and are more productive than remote employees. As a consequence, they benefit from greater rewards and ultimately, find more success than their remote counterparts. 

Why do you need to tackle proximity bias?

Not only is proximity bias an outdated phenomenon, it is actively damaging to businesses. It negatively impacts organisational culture, bringing division, affecting morale, employee wellbeing and retention. 

For new starters, the influence of proximity bias in the workplace may stunt their onboarding process. If they find themselves in an environment where a physical workplace is preferred, then remote workers may experience challenges in forming productive or valuable connections. They may also have a poor understanding of how the company works as a whole, and may find it a challenge to establish what responsibility sits with who.

Those beginning a new role and working remotely, or at least partially remotely, may experience the worst of proximity bias. Not only are they new to the business, meeting new people and trying to absorb how everything works, but they could also fall behind quickly if their employer is not prepared to invest in their training as much as for those turning up to the office each day.

Proximity bias is easier to discuss than spot. Often, it is not overt and reveals itself only over time. So, as graduates begin their careers, some even entering management positions, how can they begin to spot the signs of proximity bias? Here are five tips on what to look out for:

1. Research training schemes

Most companies are open about their opportunities for progression, it is what attracts many candidates to apply for new openings. If an organisation guarantees hybrid working on the surface, the true depth of their commitment will become evident in the different pathways they offer for both remote and in-person workers to advance through the company.

Are virtual equivalents offered for training? Are all networking opportunities purely in-person activities? Is there a history of remote employees sometimes missing out on promotion? Although many details may be difficult to discern before entering a company, patterns of  inequality will be simpler to spot once recruited.

2. Check mentoring or coaching frameworks

Managers should develop a system to ensure they are connecting with everyone in their team on a regular basis, regardless of location. This might look like managers planning an end-of-week reflection on who they have or have not contacted regularly, or which team members are working on each project.

If people working remotely are not having as much time invested in them as those in the physical workplace, it is a key sign of proximity bias. Regular meetings with both managers and co-workers are essential for any employee to feel settled and to grow. With the risk of feeling isolated and static within your role often greater for those working remotely, frequent check-ins and communication with others not only prevents a preference for one group over another but it’s also helpful for employee integration and their sense of belonging at work.

3. Check your own biases

Before anyone attempts to identify the flaws in an organisation, people must check their own biases. The legacy of the nine to five, physical workplace is strong, and will take some time to overcome. It is likely to have subtly shaped many people’s expectations of the workplace without them realising. Therefore, when starting a new role, self-reflection and examination are important. Time spent developing inclusive behaviours and strengthening ‘soft skills’, such as self-awareness, emotional intelligence and trying to identify and challenge inner prejudices will all be helpful not only in warding off the potential for personal proximity bias, but also identifying wider trends in it too.

4. Prioritise adequate collaboration tools

No matter where employees are located, businesses should facilitate working environments that suit everyone, for example, arranging hybrid meetings so that all participants are included and have an equal chance to contribute. Technology can play an important role in mitigating the effects of proximity bias. Tools such as video conferencing and instant messages accommodate live collaboration and boost the camaraderie and cohesion of the workforce, something that is essential in making sure that disparity in location doesn’t cause social distance between employees.

5. Talk to other employees

One important thing for graduates to look out for is the pressure of ‘virtual presenteeism’. New to a job and trying to make a good impression, it is easy to try and take every opportunity to be seen as someone who ‘shows up’, even if virtually. However, this is unsustainable, unnecessary, can impact balancing personal and working lives, and if prolonged, can affect wellbeing.

So, graduates should talk to other employees, both in the office and remote, share their preferences, try to understand what others like and need and agree on methods of collaboration and communication that work for all. Even as newcomers, it’s important for employees to voice their thoughts in order to shape their working lives in the way they want to and forge a culture of transparency amongst co-workers. Fighting proximity bias is not the role of one, but the coming together of many.

Teresa Boughey is CEO of Jungle HR and the Founder of Inclusion 247. She is a TEDx speaker, a Non-Executive Director and author of Closing the Gap.  

Will your social media profile replace your CV?

Business Impact: Will your social media profile replace your CV?

From Amazon and Netflix to LinkedIn and TikTok – your digital footprints offer glimpses into your personality. Algorithms can use these footprints to reveal your soft skills and suitability for a particular role, say the authors of The Future of Recruitment

What do you think reveals the most about you, your carefully curated resumé, or your online browsing habits? I think we all would agree that the latter would give any stranger an accurate picture of your unique values, characteristics and personality.

If I know that you spend a lot of time browsing and contributing to Wikipedia, as opposed to if I know you spend your time bouncing from one influencer to the next on TikTok, I can make a safe bet that you’re intellectually curious — a personality trait that is a strong predictor of job performance.

When evaluating job applicants, recruiters are evaluating a candidate on their technical skills and expertise, alongside their soft skills – or in other words, their personality. The field of industrial-organisational psychology (I-O psychology) is dedicated to identifying and measuring the personality characteristics that explain who performs at work, and who doesn’t.

Thousands of scientific studies have demonstrated that psychological qualities – such as being disciplined, curious and considerate, to name just a few – consistently predict important work outcomes, such as leadership effectiveness, innovation, and collaboration, as well as which industries or vocations would be most engaging. These findings are then used by recruiters to improve their hiring decisions and organisational performance.

Digital footprints offer new ways to evaluate applicants’ suitability

While it is somewhat easy to measure one’s technical ability, understanding whether a candidate has the ability to work alongside others, stay motivated and practice curiosity is much harder. Recruiters are often left to their intuitions (which are inadvertently biased) or rely on psychometric tests that are usually cumbersome, expensive, and often unscientific. Fortunately, new technologies powered by machine-learning and our digital footprints may offer new ways to identify top talent and evaluate the suitability of job applicants. They can also open up new job opportunities to underserved communities, save time and minimise the bias that holds many people back.

As you live and work online, you leave a large trail of digital footprints that reveals an insight into what makes you, you. The films you watch on Netflix, the things you purchase on Amazon, the TikTok influencers you follow — each provide a tiny glimpse into your personality. These footprints can be aggregated and mined by machine-learning algorithms to reveal your soft skills.

Nearly 10 years ago, researchers from Cambridge University demonstrated that your Facebook Likes could accurately predict your personality, with greater accuracy than your closest friends and family. In other words, you are what you Like. Other researchers have since expanded these findings to include Spotify playlists, Tweets, smartphone usage, and many other sources of online behaviour. So how does this impact the way organisations recruit talent?

Benefits of incorporating digital footprints into the job application process

The fundamental objective of all talent assessments is to sufficiently understand a person’s tendency to behave in a given way and infer that they will continue to do so in the future. After all, if talent is the product of the right personality in the right place, recruiters need more accurate and comprehensive tools of one’s dispositions, decision-making styles and motivations. Incorporating digital footprints into the job application process offer multiple advantages over traditional talent assessment methods:

  1. User experience. Digital footprints can be analysed in seconds, as opposed to the 30 minutes or more that it takes applicants to complete a traditional talent assessment.
  2. Fairness. If trained and deployed correctly, algorithm-powered talent assessments standardise the job application process. This means that all candidates are assessed against the same criteria, minimising human bias and subjectivity.
  3. Diverse talent pools. Digital footprints allow for ‘one click’ job applications, and when coupled with the switch to virtual working, they can attract applications from underrepresented groups and communities. New assessment methods can reduce barriers to entry and build more inclusive organisations.
  4. Accuracy. Digital footprints provide an accurate and objective measure of an individual’s disposition. By using objective behavioural data, from a variety of sources across multiple points in time, recruiters can gain an accurate insight into one’s dispositions and potential. 
  5. Transparency. It is hard to understand and ‘debug’ human decision-making, it is comparatively easy to study how algorithms work. The use of algorithms in hiring contexts will lead to talent decisions that can be easily explained — another way to combat bias.

Ethical use of algorithms  

We hope that you are hearing alarm bells as you read this article. There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about the use of such data and technologies in the hiring process. As US mathematician, Cathy O’Neil, writes, algorithms that are used to evaluate people and guide human decision-making can become ‘weapons of math destruction’. In fact, we have already seen how these technologies have been used to foster social tension and inadvertently lead to biased recruiting decisions. That said, we believe it is better to be proactive about the future and guide the development of these technologies for the benefit of individuals and society. 

To ensure that the promise of alternative measures of talent can be fully realised and used ethically, it is important that the developers and users of these next-generation technologies think critically and intentionally about the following questions:

  1. A lack of transparency. To what extent do applicants and recruiters know how their data is being processed, weighted and analysed by the algorithm?
  2. Power asymmetry. What can be done to equalise the imbalance of power between those wielding the algorithm and those being subjected to its decisions?
  3. Bias and discrimination. Can the developers and users of talent algorithms demonstrate that there is no adverse impact on the selection of minority and protected groups?
  4. Privacy. Are the requested digital records relevant, made clear to the applicant, and what safeguards are being made to ensure their privacy is being protected?

Talent algorithms should not replace human agency and decisions. Instead, they are a tool to balance our intuition and subjectivity that so often leads to bad hires and wasted resources. As the way people live and work changes, so must organisations change the way they understand and recruit talent. Digital footprints show promise to be a valuable addition to the job application process, providing we can ensure that it is done with fairness, transparency and ethics.

Franziska Leutner is a Lecturer in Occupational Psychology at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
Reece Akhtar is a Co-Founder and CEO of personality assessment firm, Deeper Signals.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is Professor of Business Psychology at University College London and Columbia University.

Franziska Leutner, Reece Akhtar and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic are the authors of The Future of Recruitment: Using the New Science of Talent Analytics to Get Your Hiring Right (Emerald, 2022).

Leading a career that puts sustainability first: six things to look for

Business Impact: Leading a career that puts sustainability first

How can you look past today’s skewed outlook on sustainability and build a career that really acknowledges our limited resources? David Ko and Richard Busellato, authors of The Unsustainable Truth, offer six things to look for when considering your path

There is a lot of misunderstanding about what sustainability is really about. However, the simple fact is that to recognise there is a sustainability problem, we must first accept that resources are limited.

A skewed outlook

Today, we have a skewed outlook on sustainability, convinced that it is about finding a way to continue to produce what we can without damaging the world and its people. This is a business perspective where the objective is to meet targets on financial returns. The approach aims to persuade people that sustainability can be achieved either by perpetually reusing what we already have, or that technology will help find new resources.

Today’s business owners, the driving force behind this pursuit, are pension and savings institutions who operate on behalf of ordinary people – the same ones who are calling for a sustainable world. The wish of business owners is to look after the prospects of our future. It is all done with good intentions, but the truth is, when too much money is involved, good intentions become harmful. That is why no matter what we do, as long as we rely on money from our investments to provide for our futures, we cannot be sustainable.

Here are some basic facts that will help explain. In 2020, the pensions and savings from ordinary people worldwide already totalled over $100 trillion USD, and required more than a 10% return on that figure. It is even higher today. The 10% number is what pensions need to achieve so its members can avoid living in poverty when they retire. In practice, this means returning over $11 trillion USD a year, more than the value of all economic activities of Germany, France, the UK, and Italy combined.

This money exists on top of what we already need each year to pay wages and taxes, to spend on business’s developments, and of course, to top up our pensions and savings.

Growing by 10% means doubling output every seven years. At this pace, we cannot recycle enough to support a circular economy. If a clothing company produces one million items today and aims to make two million items in seven years, there will not be enough recycled materials to make the extra one million items. New materials will be required. So, if we grow by more than about 1%, then our need for new materials will exceed our planet’s ability to provide.

What to look for from companies

1. Double-check a company’s growth targets

If you are a graduate looking to make a genuine step towards sustainability, look at the policies of the companies you are interested in and ask, ‘is it targeting annual growth of more than 1%’? Beyond that, you can be pretty sure its policies are free-riding off someone behaving badly.

2. Be wary of ‘recycled materials’

Take for example, a company we like, Patagonia. They have a very sensible policy to move to using only recycled materials. However, if it is only able to recycle the extra million items because another company has produced them from new materials first, then what have we actually achieved? Sustainability needs us to look at the whole planet, what everyone else is doing. It is easy for us to claim that what we do is good. But in a world with limited resources, we have to ask, are we simply becoming free-riders?

Worse still, one person’s recycling can become the justification for others to use up new resources. When we build our business based on not wasting other people’s wastes, we actually end up encouraging more waste to be produced.

3. Try to challenge traditional takes on productivity

In the late 1920s, Henry Ford improved production to the extent that, at his more advanced plants, a new Model-T car rolled off the assembly line once every 10 seconds. Today, we are producing three cars every second, 24 hours a day, every day, including holidays. We are also burning more than a thousand barrels of oil per second to facilitate all of this. All of this is promoted by an efficiency focused on how many units can be produced per unit of input, and a marketing philosophy of ‘build it and they will come’.

This constant cycle of production is fed by outdated ideas of productivity and efficiency. In a truly sustainable world, we need to rethink all these choices.

4. Understand that real sustainability work adapts to people, not vice versa

Sustainability is ultimately about protecting people’s dignity and purpose for living even when life is hard and difficult. So, how can we keep working in a purposeful and rewarding way into old age without relying on money from investments? To do this, people should not adapt to work, instead we need a diversity of work to fit our different abilities. It is about experimenting with rewilding our human economy just as we are learning to ‘re-wild’ our natural environments.

5. Be prepared to challenge norms

Graduates today that are seriously interested in sustainability will have to address some real challenges. How can businesses collaborate so that we can have a natural means of preventing too many activities from happening? How can we move from a responsibility of looking good, to one of accepting that it is hard for ourselves and others to do things. This is so alien to what our schools and education teach us, emphasising that we must treat resources as precious, not a means for greater output.

6. Look for a business’s purpose before profit

For a young person entering into a company and hoping to influence it for the better, the biggest challenge is to be practical. Sustainability is about the survival of a company. How can it thrive when there is no volume growth? This requires a focus on the company’s real work – what is its natural niche so that it can rein back the financial, operational and climate leverages, and the implicit reliance on others doing more? It is about thinking beyond the gimmicks of doing good to focus on what is necessary, so that in the face of rising costs and hardship, the business will still have a niche and something to make it stand out.

David Ko (left) and Richard Busellato are Co-Founders of Rethinking Choices and authors of The Unsustainable Truth (2021). They are experienced investment managers turned sustainability advocates, having left the finance industry in recognition of the damage that expecting constant returns on investment causes to people and the planet. 

How to prepare yourself for taking on your first management role

Business Impact: How to prepare yourself for taking on your first management role

Discover the four main management styles and get some advice on how you can have an impact on your organisation, in this guide to stepping up to management-level roles from Sarah-Jane McQueen, General Manager at CoursesOnline

Taking that first leap into management can be daunting, especially if you will be managing others for the first time in tour career. However, with the right preparation, it needn’t be. Often, the worry we have when taking a step up in our career is largely down to not knowing what to expect, or being afraid that we won’t know what to do. That’s why taking these preparatory steps before you begin your management job are vitally important.

Consider the manager you want to be

Before you plan your course of action as a new manager, take some time to think about what type of manager you want to be. There are four main management styles, and which one you are depends on the team you manage, the organisation you work for, and most importantly, your personality and values. The four management styles are:

  • Autocratic: These managers take charge of their team, making decisions and offering a clear structure for the plan of action. With little input from the team, autocratic managers take charge of the team’s objectives and responsibility for how they achieve them.

  • Democratic: Democratic managers, as the name suggests, work on a more democratic basis. Although guidance is provided by the manager, everyone in the team has a say and is encouraged to put forward ideas during the decision-making process.

  • Laissez-faire: The laissez-faire leadership style is also known as the ‘leave alone’ approach and is a very hands-off management style. These managers delegate work to each member of their team, and it is up to each member to decide how to approach their tasks and meet their objectives.

  • Persuasive: Persuasive managers make the ultimate decisions for the team, but use persuasion to get the rest of the team on board. Persuasive managers have excellent communication skills and encourage the team to ask questions and understand the reason for decisions being made.

Each of these styles has its advantages or disadvantages, so consider which style appeals to you. Consider managers you have had and what style you responded to best. Which style appeals to you? How do you think your team would respond to each of these methods? Note down the pros and cons of each and see which one (or elements of each) would be the best approach for you to take and apply best to your management skills.

Recognise that your objective has changed

For roles not in management, the focus is always on the job that you as an individual are doing. Are you hitting your targets? What is your workload like? What is your output However, managers’ targets are for the team they manage. First-time managers need to be aware of how your focus shifts in your new role from simply being about your own work to overseeing what others are doing. Supporting your team means being able to manage the workload and output of each member and seeing how every team member affects the work of the team overall.

Think about what impact you want to have

Next, consider what kind of impact you want to have on your team and the organisation as a whole. Are there any areas where you think things could be improved? Is there anything lacking that you could bring to the table? One of the great things about moving into management is that you have more of an ability to enact positive change within the company.

If you are initially unsure about what you want to change or improve, then note down the key achievements and challenges within your team (or organisation) in the previous year. If you are changing companies, note down any challenges you came across at your previous company. Then discuss with current employees what improvements they would want to see and if they have any ideas of how to implement changes. Finally, think about your objectives as manager, not project-based aims but broader goals, such as ensuring you have a happy team or streamlining administration, and jot down the steps you want to take to make these improvements.

Don’t put pressure on yourself

Although it is a big step to go into management, you are not expected to get it right away. While preparing for your first management role, make sure you don’t get overwhelmed and bear in mind that it will be a learning process.

Plan and prepare, but also allow for flexibility. You can do this by being open to different management styles, being aware that changes can take a while to come into effect and understanding that teams might interact differently than you had planned. You can’t foresee everything, and being aware of the hurdles, surprises and learning curves that come with every new job is vital.

Many people forget that learning and developing your skill as a manager takes time and practice, and assume that because you were hired for the job you need to know everything straight away. However, there are many advantages to being open to the unexpected. For example, you can find new ways of working, refine your leadership skills and learn to adapt to new challenges. Being prepared to adapt your plans and build trust with the members of your team are key to not just being a good manager, but also a great manager. 

Main image credit: Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Sarah-Jane McQueen is General Manager at the online learning marketplace website CoursesOnline, which offers online management courses.

Finding your fit: the relationship between stress, career and creativity

Business Impact: Finding your fit – the relationship between stress, career and creativity

While an optimal amount of stress can help you focus and perform better, ‘bad’ stress and anxiety can impair your ability, says the author of Beat Stress at Work, Mark Simmonds. That’s why your characteristics and your work must be a good fit

Fit is everything.

If you want to give yourself the best chance possible of enjoying a rewarding career – one where you are able to fulfil the loftiest of ambitions – it’s important that you’re able to choose a path where you are able to manage ‘bad’ stress as much as possible. One way of doing this is to treat your job in the same way you would treat a personal relationship. In other words, look for a job where there is a close alignment between your own values and those of the company. If there is misalignment between the two for too long, the pressure will mount and it will more than likely end in tears.

This is what happened to me when I kicked off my career. It was really painful.

The prolonged panic attack

In my early twenties, I started working for Unilever, the global consumer goods company – one of the largest in the world. Its household brands, like Dove, Axe, Knorr, Magnum and Domestos are available in around 190 countries.

Unilever also has one of the most respected management trainee programmes for young people who want to forge a career in marketing. I succeeded in joining it when I was 25, working for Birds Eye Wall’s, one of its operating companies at the time and I was pretty proud of my achievement. The career roadmap was now neatly laid out in front of me and the future seemed bright.

A year later, I found myself pacing up and down the basement of the Birds Eye Wall’s building liked a caged animal. I was alone, surrounded only by freezers full of frozen peas, beef burgers and fish fingers and my own confused thoughts. I was trying to work out why I was suddenly feeling so anxious, why I seemed incapable of completing the most basic of tasks at my desk upstairs. I needed a bit of head space, away from people, to think clearly and work out what was going on in my frazzled mind. At the time, I was only a trainee, the lowest of the low. Admittedly, I had now been handed a little more responsibility and people in the team were relying on me to get things done, but I was still a relatively insignificant cog in the wheel.

Yerkes, Dodson and the electrocuted rat

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was experiencing a prolonged panic attack. During those ‘basement wandering days’, I felt frightened and agitated all the time. Back in 1908, two psychologists, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, discovered that mild electric shocks could be used to motivate rats to complete a maze, but when the shocks became too strong, they would start panicking and scurry around the maze haphazardly in an attempt to escape. This became the basis of the Yerkes-Dodson Law which suggested there is a clear link between performance and arousal.

For example, an optimal amount of stress will help you focus on an exam and remember all the key facts. You might feel energised, stimulated, even exhilarated. That is ‘good stress’ and this might help you perform even better. But too much anxiety can impair your ability to remember anything worth writing down on the exam paper. You might freeze and become incapable of thinking straight. That’s ‘bad stress’ when you might not even perform at all. For what it’s worth, I felt like that electrocuted rat.

A round peg in a square hole 

When I was writing the book, Beat Stress at Work, I reflected back on that period and tried to work out what had gone wrong. What was it that had caused me to suffer from the prolonged panic attack and the years of discomfort that followed working at Birds Eye Wall’s? The problem was fit. I was a round peg in a square hole.

By nature, I was more of a creative type and enjoyed ruminating and cogitating, playing around with ideas and concepts, preferably on my own. I liked to have time and space to think things through. However, Birds Eye Wall’s was a fast-paced environment where making decisions quickly was very much the order of the day. Long ‘to do’ lists and pressing deadlines were very much the order of the day and all the beautiful inefficiency associated with the creative process was frowned on.

Matching careers and characteristics  

I developed the Matchmaker to help people make good career choices. It identifies a number of characteristics that define the DNA of both the company and the individual. The goal is to try and ensure that there are as many matches as possible, because the more matches there are, the more aligned the needs of both parties will be, and the less likely that ‘bad’ stress will rear its ugly head.

You can see in the Matchmaker table that in the case of Birds Eye Wall’s and me, that it was only ‘team orientation’ where alignment existed. For crucial pairings such as ‘focus on people development’ vs. ‘focus on task completion’ and ‘bias towards introverts’ vs. ‘bias towards extroverts’, the company and I were misaligned. Over a period of time, this misalignment began to cause me more and more ‘bad stress’.                            

So, how do you use the Matchmaker?

1* If your current job is causing you significant ‘bad’ stress, use this framework to highlight the differences that exist between you and the company, dimension by dimension. Put your name and your company’s name in the relevant boxes and insert a star where your names appear side by side.

2* Use the completed framework as the basis for a constructive conversation with your employers to see if you can achieve greater alignment. Be prepared to discuss the source(s) of your stress. Try and agree what they can do, what you can do.

3* Alternatively, if you are on the lookout for a new job, then use the dimensions of the Matchmaker to help you identify companies/positions where there is likely to be greater alignment between you and them.

Remember that fit is everything. Don’t be a square peg in a round hole if you can avoid it.

Mark Simmonds runs a creativity agency called GENIUS YOU and is the author of Beat Stress at Work

The hybrid workplace: how to prioritise mental wellbeing and inclusiveness

Business Impact - The hybrid workplace: how to prioritise mental wellbeing and inclusiveness

How companies can use the same technology that enables remote working to foster social interactions between colleagues that can greatly improve employee wellbeing

The past two years have been a roller coaster for industries worldwide. Covid-19 lockdowns caused most companies to transition to online work, with people working from home for most of 2020 and the start of 2021. As countries have started to open up once more, the effects of online work have remained. Many companies are now engaging in a hybrid working environment in which employees work partly remotely and partly on-site.

Hybrid models come with many benefits, and many employees prefer them for their flexibility. Therefore, it’s likely that hybrid models will stay for good. However, there are a few issues with this model. As society is now more focused on mental health, experts are asking whether a hybrid model can adequately address mental health issues and employees’ inclusiveness.

Can remote work be damaging to mental wellbeing?

At first glance, working in the comfort of your own home sounds like a brilliant idea. But after spending long periods of remote working, there are obvious drawbacks.

The most obvious issue associated with remote work is the lack of social interaction. Lack of in-person speaking can feel very lonely if you are a very social person. Before lockdowns, many people spent most of their day working with colleagues. The absence of in-person interaction also makes it more difficult to feel included or part of a work family.

More hidden problems can arise from losing the ability to separate your work life from your home life. When traveling to a physical workplace, you have a set amount of hours, and you can fully disconnect once you’re back home. When working from home, it’s harder to disconnect from work once you’ve finished your day. This can lead to higher stress levels due to worrying about looming deadlines and unfinished tasks.

Furthermore, people tend to work longer hours when working from home. This can be because there is no good end to the workday. When working on-site, you often have to finish at a specific time in order to get home on time. The incentive to get home simply isn’t there when you’re remote working. So many people end up working longer hours when finishing a lengthy task.

How can companies deal with these issues?

This issue needs to be addressed by companies that favour a remote or hybrid working model. Although changes may not solve all problems, companies can promote practices to improve inclusiveness and mental wellbeing.

Companies can do this by trying to increase social contact in remote environments. The same technology that enables remote working can be used to improve social contact. Most employees now will be familiar with online meetings and remote communication for work. Companies can set up meetings and group chats that are not for formal work. Instead, these meetings can allow employees to relax and have casual conversations.

Sarah Bennett, CIO of Mercator IT Solutions, shared how the company has managed to improve their employee wellbeing and boost their retention rates. ‘We have our formal channels but we also have a ‘Coffee Break’ thread – this is the place that less work-related chat can go on, a bit of friendly banter, suggestions for social calls (not all video calls have to be for meetings!) etc. When clear policies are in place that ensure staff know how the channels should be used and what is and is not acceptable, it can work very well. Aside from this, there are so many things that can be provided for everyone to access that can support wellbeing, such as access to virtual yoga and mindfulness sessions, and exercise classes.’

If there are policies in place to ensure staff knows what’s appropriate for these relaxed group chats, they can help reduce loneliness in remote environments effectively.

Bennett continued: ‘It’s the very technology that enables remote working that is the key to maintaining the social contact that staff would ordinarily get in the office. All the platforms have chat functions, file sharing and video conferencing technologies and while companies need to ensure the channels are not misused there is clearly an opportunity for these platforms to be used to connect staff. Regular meetups to discuss work and hurdles that are being met are vital – the onus is on employees’ line managers to be more proactive in maintaining communication.’

Another great practice is encouraging social breaks throughout the day to replicate breaks in the workplace. Breaks in remote working might, for example, result in staff spending a few minutes on their phone or watching something on Netflix. Having breaks where staff can relax and talk among each other on group chats or meeting rooms allows for healthy social interaction throughout the day. It also helps staff disconnect when they’re not in working hours. Talking with friends can reduce stress or worry about ongoing tasks in the office.

Ebo Aneju is a Content Writer at SEO agency, Pearl Lemon.

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