Freedom from rolling lockdowns is in sight for NSW and Victoria, and businesses are evolving hybrid work policies to suit employee preferences and expectations.

But new research reveals the majority of employees believe those who return to the office will have an undisputable career advantage.

As hybrid work models are now widely accepted as the default environments for many businesses, a Qualtrics study uncovers the impact these policies are having on employee experience – which varies across workforce sectors.

The research from the experience management provider found many respondents (47 per cent) would feel pressure to work in the office when restrictions allow a return.

A quarter of respondents said working remotely means they won’t be visible to leadership – which concerned them greatly.

The numbers

The survey of 1,000 employees in August this year also found that one in 10 Australians believe that working remotely will impact future pay rises, while nearly one in five (18 per cent) believe that working remotely will impact their chance of promotion.

Almost half of employees (46 per cent) believe that in-office workers will have a clear advantage, with people in management (57 per cent) and director roles (60 per cent) more likely to agree.

Employees aged 45 and over are more likely to believe that working remotely would negatively impact their pay rises, chance of promotion and visibility to leadership.

Men are also more likely than women to believe that in-office workers are at an advantage (48 per cent vs 43 per cent).

Total freedom not the answer

The impact of hybrid work on employee experience and retention rates should not be underestimated, Steve Bennetts, senior manager of employee experience growth and strategy for Qualtrics in Asia Pacific and Japan says.

“Employees are actively looking to join organisations that meet their expectations, preferences and values. And while hybrid might be the preferred operating model for many, simply enabling employees to work wherever they choose is not the answer,” he says.

Instead, businesses need to make sure their hybrid policies are inclusive, and continuously listen to employees, he says.

“The challenge for employers is making sure no individuals are left behind or is disadvantaged by the transformations underway.”

However, the big issue for some employees continues to be trus with a trend toward passively tracking employees digitally as workforces become remote.

A survey by Gartner revealed that 16 per cent of organisations are passively tracking employees via methods like virtual clocking in and out, tracking computer usage and monitoring employee emails or internal communications and chat.

Gartner’s 2021 Hybrid Work Employee Survey of more than 4,200 knowledge workers reveals that employees’ attempts to recreate visibility by investing in tracking systems has made employees twice as likely to present to be working, exacerbating the ‘always on’ phenomenon.

Specialist software is being used to track workers’ keystrokes, mouse movements and the websites they visit. Managers can also view statistics from their corporate private network to check who has logged in and when, and cross-check this to assess productivity, according to other reports.

But Gartner’s survey found that tracking in this way makes workers feel emotionally drained from work and reduces inclusiveness by up to 44 per cent.