back to article Support, don't micromanage, say researchers who find WFH intensified 'anxiety' in some

Many office workers no longer want to sacrifice their entire working week at their desk – the corporate altar of commerce – but for some with "a higher level of neuroticism," the work from home revolution has intensified "anxiety and stress." Or so says research [PDF] undertaken by the King's Business School and Norwich …

  1. tiggity Silver badge

    Varies by individual

    WFH has less distractions / interruptions so you can be far more productive & control your day better e.g. I start well before my official start time so can then have a few breaks in the day (as 100% focused coding all day is draining), so do the allotted hours (& usually a bit more) but with healthy breaks (and also far fresher without stressful commute), but some people like the social environment of an office.

    If I get mandated to do x days a week in the office I will be looking for a new role (and if no remote ones available, retiring early*), and on the days I am in the office my productivity will fall massively due to all the chat interruptions.

    * Mainly working to build up savings for retirement, could retire now but extra savings good to allow for more freedom to do stuff when retired (as cost of living shooting up) - and to cover unexpected situations when retired e.g. with how UK NHS has been destroyed by conservative government then sadly private medical services may be only option for quality of life operations with massive NHS waiting lists (e.g. artificial joints)

    1. Steve Button Silver badge

      Re: Varies by individual

      Absolutely. WFH is not for everyone. If you are still perched on the kitchen side or the sofa since 2020 with screaming kids running around you might get more done in an office (unless you've got screaming adults running around - i.e. they parked you next to Sales and Marketing - yes, this has actually happened to me)

      OTOH, if you've got a private office which can be totally silent with a sit/stand desk, decent monitors, decent keyboard and mouse + dock + speakers.... compared to a long commute to a cramped office in London with broken monitors, crappy keyboards, no mouse and plenty of noise (not a made up example). Well, it's a pretty obvious choice what some of us prefer. No amount of free beer / ping pong / bean bags are going to make me want to suffer that dip in productivity.

    2. Jedit Silver badge
      WTF?

      "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

      In which parallel universe do you live? The distractions at home are immeasurably greater than in the office - especially now summer is coming on, as workmen are out in force and the neighbours are outside with their kids. Don't get me wrong, I like having a six foot commute in the morning and fixing my own lunch without having to waste time off the clock is way better and cheaper than the canteen. But WFH is not more peaceful.

      1. Martin Summers

        Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

        "But WFH is not more peaceful."

        Says you, about your own specific circumstances. As ever, everyone else's mileage may vary. Someone here might work in a shack on top of a mountain with Starlink and only the odd mountain goat for company.

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

          > only the odd mountain goat for company.

          Which is precisely what he was complaining about:

          >> neighbours are outside with their kids.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

          "only the odd mountain goat for company"

          I suppose a lot depends on how odd the mountain goat might be.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

        > In which parallel universe do you live? The distractions at home are immeasurably greater than in the office

        Not a parallel universe, just - not down the same street you are!

        It is bad enough people go "no, you are wrong, nobody *I* normally talk to has that opinion" but when they believe that every home *must* be in the identical situation as theirs then you have to really worry about their grasp on the enormity of the world and the differences that are found across it.

        Go for a walk outside your close! Visit the neighbouring towns and villages! We know it is scary, but it is worth it.

      3. Steve Button Silver badge

        Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

        I've converted half my double garage into an office / granny annex. Did the work myself and insulated it very well from sound and heat + got double glazing installed. It's also very cool in summer. If anything it's TOO QUIET and sometimes I have to set a reminder to get up and take a stroll around the garden and look at the horses in the field next door, or I might just sit there clinking away at my keyboard all morning. I planned this 15 years ago because I've always really wanted to work from home, and knew it was sensible and possible considering the type of work I do.

        It's not for everyone, but if you plan it right and have the space it's possible to block out the noise of local goats. Failing that, put on a pair of NC700 noise cancelling headphones (or whatever model takes your fancy).

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

          Did the same, but a workspace in the basement. Well lit,plenty of outlets, carpet and suspended ceiling. Walls are a cheery yellow and I have two small windows for a glimpse of the sky (and the legs of the people that mow the lawn)

          It's so quiet I cannot hear SWMBO's book group as they arrive to discuss and nosh. Did most of it during COVID, not on the company dime, but some of it was done during workday downtime.

      4. Law

        Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

        Even mid lock-down I had less distractions than the office, and that was with a wife and 2 kids in the house.

        The reason? They make these amazing things called noise-cancelling headphones.

        1. LybsterRoy Silver badge

          Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

          -- They make these amazing things called noise-cancelling headphones. --

          and wives and children come with an attachment called hands - really useful for creating an interruption.

          1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

            Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

            My missus and young'uns often do what office-critters/cow-orkers cannot: go outside. Whether it's for an errand run, outdoor chores [1], or recreation [2], the house gets quieter.

            And, if all else fails, I have a home office door I can close for the meetings where I have to present (lots of talking) -- a perfect indicator that any interruption would not be appreciated [3]. The only thing they do that's remotely bothersome is music practice (piano for the younger two; tenor saxophone for the oldest, a teenager), but this only bothers me if I have to stop my own music or help them correct a mistake.

            [1] The kids are doing more this year than ever, taking the pressure off me.

            [2] I wish I were outside getting recreation with them instead of inside working, but such is life.

            [3] "What if there's a fire?" We have interconnected smoke alarms that will blare all over the house -- I'll hear it and kindly tell everyone that they just became second priority to a local issue, sign off calmly, then start panicking.

          2. Law

            Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

            My reply was aimed at the person who post that wfh was too distracting because of neighbours kids and workmen outside, not their wife and kids.

            I used the univesal "I'm working" protocol when the kids were home during the work day, that simply involved closing my office door if I didn't want to be interrupted. Telling people off the couple of times they didn't stick to the rule was all that was needed for me to be left alone when I needed to be. If that hadn't worked I'd have put a lock on the office door - wasn't needed though.

            Ignoring all that though - if they find people outside the house going about their lives painful, then an open plan office with a ton of other people all talking / walking / asking questions / pulling you into unplanned meetings is going to be an absolute distraction fest... the office is far more distracting, and it always was.

      5. LybsterRoy Silver badge

        Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

        Judging by the number of downvotes there must be a lot of people in IT who are not in a relationship or live somewhere without any other people in a five mile radius

      6. Avfusion

        Re: "WFH has less distractions / interruptions"

        Have you, perhaps, considered that not everybody lives a carbon copy of your life?

        Those same workmen don't exist near me. Surprising thought, right?

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Managers need to remove any hint of micromanagement, pressure, and surveillance"

    Yeah, like that's going to happen.

    And 337 people ? A valid effort, but I'm not sure that it is a representative sample. I thought you needed 2000 to have a valid statistical basis for analysis.

    Doesn't matter. I'll just file this in the "nice to know, will be talked about, won't have any effect" folder.

  3. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Wow!!

    "Those getting better support from their employer felt more able to take decisions on their own and voiced generally better states of emotional welfare"

    I'd never have guessed! So it took two business schools working collaboratively together to find this out?

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Wow!!

      > So it took two business schools working together to find this out?

      It is quite a step forward for a business school, let alone two! After all, how many MBAs does it take to change a light bulb?[1]

      [1] I don't know, that wasn't covered in the course; I'll have to call in a consultant.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wow!!

        several consultants to vet their proposals

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    My situation is different

    I'm a freelance consultant. Thanks to COVID, 75% of my work is now Work From Office, my office. I have some customers where I do have to go on-site, but since COVID that is a clear minority.

    And I'm fine with that. I get to commute less, I waste no time in useless banter and, when the job is done, I go home. There is no manager telling me it's not yet time because I'm the manager and when I say it's time, it's time.

    Of course, I'm also in charge of getting my customers to pay my bills, but thankfully that is not much of problem since I eliminated the customers that took me 90% of my time just to get paid.

    That said, I do count myself as lucky. Not everyone can do this job, and in my little niche I am quite privileged. It'll do me nicely until I retire in about a decade.

  5. newspuppy

    link to actual report

    The actual report is here:

    (abstract and source of paper: https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/well-being-and-empowerment-perceptions-in-a-sudden-shift-to-worki )

    https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/257409864/Jackson_et_al._202x_ACCEPTED.pdf

    for those that care to read it.. and not waste time looking for it.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: link to actual report

      Brilliant, thanks - we've added that link now.

      C.

  6. Handlebars

    Measuring remote work and neuroticism with the confounding variable of a pandemic is a really odd choice. There were lots of people in remote jobs before 2020.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Key difference here is many were forced in to remote working than having chosen it as part of the job.

      Of course, once doing this many realised it has great advantages in terms of life quality if no tedious and expensive commute, etc, but equally for some it was not good as either they have issues working at home due to others (or lack of dedicated space), or they just miss company. In the ideal world you get to chose your mode of work, and the managers are actually helpful in terms of assigning and monitoring tasks. But...

    2. that one in the corner Silver badge

      It doesn't help that the quote in TFA is potentially ambiguous / being misinterpreted:

      > "intensified feelings of anxiety and stress for workers with higher level of neuroticism, with a potential lack of preparedness for the WFH environment exacerbating emotional instability."

      That *doesn't* state "... stress for workers LEADING TO higher level of neuroticism" (which is how TFA and comments here seem to taking it) but says workers who already are a tad more neurotic than the rest (and we are *all* a bit neurotic about something) are having a worse time than the rest.

      Which also sounds like stating the bleeding obvious, but is the sort of thing (mild variation in personality leading to greater negative responses) that gets glossed over.

      1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Oops

        Yeah, we messed up there. The article has been revised to focus more on reality. Sorry about that; we will try harder next time.

        C.

  7. that one in the corner Silver badge

    Should I stay or should I go?

    Tell me know, I want to know, uh ha.

    This article:

    > Just last month, research indicated that HR folk are worried that return to office mandates are leading to higher staff attrition rates

    That article:

    >> a quarter of executives and a fifth of HR professionals hoped RTO mandates would result in staff leaving

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Short summary:

    Bad managers manage W@H badly, good managers manage W@H well.

  9. Cruachan

    Can't definitively say WFH is good or bad for everyone, but (IMO) having the choice IS definitely a good thing. Going to the office 1 day a week is OK for me, and I'll usually do one or both of going to the gym or doing the shopping on the way home. The rest of the week, I'm happy with the extra hour in bed and the freedom if the weather is good to go out for a bit rather than losing an hour or so commuting.

    I know people who hate it though, but WFH was common for me even pre-pandemic as a contractor - on big projects there were often more contractors than desks.

  10. jonmasters

    “Who were polled during lockdown”

    That was a very stressful time. I think you might be measuring something else there.

  11. Tron Silver badge

    There are no absolutes.

    Different people work better in different circumstances. Yes, there will be people who slack from home and it can be a security issue. Others need to have an office life to stay sane and be productive.

    It can have a smaller hit on the environment, but even that is not a given, with EVs, public transport and economies of scale - less energy to keep 100 workers warm in an office than heat 100 homes. In the UK, offices may have air con, but hardly any homes do. And you can only WFH on a smartphone for so long in the freezer section of your local supermarket during a heat wave.

    If you have loud neighbours, you may not even be able to work from home. We don't all live in detached properties with triple glazing.

    And it depends on the job. Some stuff is just crap when done on Zoom. For some things you need to be in the office. For others, you don't.

    There may always be the feeling that you are an outlier, out of the loop and a bit more disposable if you work from home. And it may be true. Hopefully, folk will be able to find the job structure that suits them.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whose school?

    "research undertaken by the King's Business School"

    Elvis has a business school?

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Whose school?

      Indeed, there is a Hard Headed Woman who will teach you, otherwise you might end up In The Ghetto.

  13. ecofeco Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Don't micromanage?

    LOL, like that will ever happen.

  14. LybsterRoy Silver badge

    Return to piecework pay

    I wonder if with WFH happening, and for those jobs where it is practicable we might see a return to piecework rather than pay for attendance. It would certainly address some of the management issues.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Return to piecework pay

      Not every work is amenable to piecework pay. How would one assess the pay value of an infosec audit and report? Hours spent and hourly rate? Back to equivalent of pay for attendance. Satisfaction with report? Many clients will hate the reports they get because they show up embarrassing deficiencies, but that doesn't make the reports wrong. So what other basis?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like