Leadership practices have changed over the past few years to reflect the new and different styles of working. Remote working is an example of this and is a practice which continues to increase at an astonishing rate, and had been even before the Covid pandemic. The growing popularity of and tendency towards remote work is primarily a result of technological advances boosted by health and social changes. Working at home allows employees to lower their health risks (Covid), whilst managers maintain the organisation’s productivity.
Impact of remote working
Whilst remote working can be highly advantageous for both employees and managers, it can also negatively impact employees’ mental health and general well-being, because of factors such as:
- Changes to an employee’s work schedule that arise from splitting time between working at the office and working from home.
- The isolation employees experience due to a lack of direct social interaction and support from co-workers.
- The perception of not being included in decision-making that can make employees feel less involved and valued.
- The potential for employees to experience workaholism which stems from an inability to shut off from work.
Managers should proceed with caution when deciding to include remote working in standard operations. Importantly, they also need to match their leadership style with employees’ needs at the office and at home.
A common leadership style is intrusive leadership, where managers try to learn about their employees’ personal lives, sometimes to the point of being nosy or pushy. Whilst the intention is often just to engage employees and be aware of any negative situations that could impact their work, this practice has frequently been found to overstep work-life boundaries.
Managers and leaders can overstep boundaries in other contexts, as well. For example, they often demand employees work outside of their scheduled hours whilst they are working from home, especially where international remote teams are involved or just responding to emails and other tasks. This can lead to higher stress levels and reduced mental health.
Previous research looking at the popularity of remote working, and the advantages and drawbacks of this practice within organisations, has found that:
- More than 1/3 of the jobs in developed countries can be performed completely from home.
- Potential advantages of telecommuting include:
- higher job satisfaction and lower employee turnover rates
- higher performance levels and reduced stress levels
- more perceived autonomy for employees
- Potential drawbacks of telecommuting include harm to employees’ mental health and negative symptoms like burnout and exhaustion.
- Authoritarian, hierarchical leadership can increase technostress and workaholism for remote employees.
- Remote working on its own does not measurably impact the level of employee engagement, whilst the manager’s leadership style has the strongest impact on the employee.
- When managers engage in e-leadership (leadership through distributed and electronic means) there tends to be a less noticeable hierarchical structure for the employees. This has a knock-on impact on the creation of trust and the development of strong interpersonal relationships.
A new study
A new (2021) study by researchers from Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, the University Agostino Gemelli, the Institute of Clinical Physiology IFC and the University of Genova in Italy has looked at how intrusive leadership, telecommuting and working overtime impact the health and well-being of employees.
The study found that:
• Intrusive leadership negatively impacts telecommuting employees by:
o Increasing their occupational stress levels
o Further blurring the boundaries between work and home
o Aggravating mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
o Decreasing overall happiness and well-being
• The negative effects of intrusive leadership were found to be more severe for employees who are workaholics
• Stress increases significantly when managers demand that employees work extra hours beyond their scheduled work hours and this has a further impact on their mental health outcomes.
Forcing employees into working practices that reduce their work-life boundaries and increase their hours whilst remote working can be quite harmful to their overall well-being.
Given these findings, leaders should…
Given these findings, and so that all employees who engage in remote working remain productive, healthy team members with lower stress levels, leaders should:
- Avoid practising intrusive leadership.
- Encourage employees to disconnect from work during off hours, including holidays, as a positive organisational practice.
- Host health and well-being interventions periodically to reduce workaholism.
Magnavita, N., Tripepi, G., & Chiorri, C. (2021). Telecommuting, off-time work, and intrusive leadership in workers’ well-being. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(7), 3330.
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