More employee freedom should be new normal: McMaster University Hamilton professor

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Published April 4, 2022 at 11:02 am

More employee freedom should be new normal: McMaster University Hamilton professor
While the term "new normal" has been used ad nauseam since the pandemic, it is perhaps most fitting when applied to the workplace. Is change good?

While the term “new normal” has been used ad nauseam since the pandemic, it is perhaps most fitting when applied to the workplace.

COVID-19 forced individuals and businesses to culturally rethink the traditional work model. Companies were able to discover efficiencies and employees spent more time at home, re-evaluating their careers and re-prioritizing what is most important to them in the face of additional stressors.

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Things are different now, and according to Hamilton-based professor Catherine Connelly, that’s a good thing.

“The pandemic has forced many workplaces to take stock of their policies on how their employees complete their work,” said Connelly, who teaches human resources and management at McMaster University‘s DeGroote School of Business.

“Before COVID, working from home was often a privilege granted to a few select workers like high performers and people in certain jobs that already had a high degree of autonomy and discretion.”

More employee freedom should be new normal: McMaster University Hamilton professor

Hamilton-based professor Catherine Connelly (pictured) teaches human resources and management at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business.

In an interview with Brighter World‘s Andrea Lawson, Connelly said managers have had to adapt and focus on whether the employees’ objectives are being met rather than micromanaging the day-to-day activities of each employee.

“Fewer employees are willing to make compromises that harm their own health and well-being or that of their families,” she said.

Many individuals are simply unwilling to return to the office. Particularly those who incur the cost and time required for commuting.

Others have taken on additional caregiver roles, not only in terms of childcare but also in eldercare. Connelly says it would be a shame if companies didn’t at least provide a hybrid solution.

“Organizations that can allow employees to continue to work from home for at least part of the time will benefit from more satisfied and committed employees,” she noted. “During the pandemic, a lot of flexibility was offered, and it would be a shame if these advances were lost.”

What about the socializing and comradery that has been lacking during the pandemic? Connelly believes regular social and networking events, either in-person or remotely, are critical in ensuring individuals feel like part of a team.

“By working from home, employees may miss out on serendipitous informal interactions with co-workers. These unplanned conversations about mundane topics are important for building trust, which my research has shown has serious implications for knowledge sharing and hiding,” she said.

Safety is also a consideration for companies and their employees. COVID-19 is not over and Connelly stressed that pushing employees to work in ways that feel unsafe is counterproductive.

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