The hybrid dilemma: Overcoming biases in performance management
HBR reports that more than 90% of employers are planning to adopt a hybrid working model for their knowledge workers in 2022 which points out the inevitability of the hybrid workplace. But against this backdrop, an interesting trend has come to light which was revealed in a survey conducted by Gartner of 3,000 managers back in the fall of 2020. When it came to performance, 64% of managers and executives believed that in-office employees are higher performers than remote employees, and 76% believe that in-office workers are more likely to be promoted. Such biases can prove to be detrimental for an increasingly distributed workforce and negatively impact their appraisals and devalue their contributions at the workplace. In reverse, if the bias believes that work from home employees are doing more, this would create difficulties for those in office or even for those in a hybrid set-up.
With the intention of overturning this scenario and to combat biases that may pervade in a hybrid set-up when it comes to performance evaluations, People Matters had a series of engaging conversations with key HR leaders on the definition of productivity, their definitions of an ideal worker, the biases they are mindful of and what it takes to build an empathetic work culture.
It’s believed that employees are more productive during work from home than at home. What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree that a hybrid workforce will be more productive? Why or why not?
‘Yes and No. Yes, WFH gives employees fewer interruptions, which would normally occur in an office environment. By contrast, WFH allows for a quieter environment that can facilitate more focused work. In addition, the flexibility provided by WFH can help improve work/life balance for employees. For example, with time saved from long commutes, give them additional time for rest, exercise, or with their family.
However, WFH might not be suited to everyone’s personality or capacity. Some employees might prefer the routine and structure that working in an office setting provides them. Some employees also prefer personal interaction with colleagues and also find face-to-face guidance with their manager extremely beneficial. WFH may also not fit in with everyone's home-life like parents with young children. Others may not also have the physical space required to create a suitable work area. In addition, WFH can lead to some employees struggling to differentiate between work-life and home-life – making it difficult for them to switch off from work. As we already know, the diffusion of such boundaries between home and the office has led to longer hours, increased stress, and inevitable burnout.’
-Felicia Tan, Regional Talent Acquisition Manager-APAC, Mintel
How has your definition of productivity changed over the last two years since the pandemic?
‘Globally, the norms of measuring or the nomenclature around ‘productivity’ have evolved over the last two years. The pandemic arrived like a ‘zone-of-unknown’ and led corporations across the world to rethink, not just in terms of business imperatives but also the ways of working. What started as a short-term fix around allowing employees to WFH has now become a way of life. It didn’t take much for organizations to realize that you need a motivated workforce to drive business results, irrespective of WFH or WFO. As the pandemic is easing, organizations are rethinking, and a hybrid workforce model is becoming a best practice. While it allows following of pandemic norms, it also gives flexibility to the workforce to manage work-life and personal-life more efficiently.’
-Jasneet Kaur, Director People & Culture, IPM India Wholesale Trading Private Limited
How would you describe an ideal worker in the current business environment?
‘The ideal worker is one that is aligned with their needs and the needs of the company. Not everyone has the ability to work remotely. However, the ability to remove time and location from a candidate search means there’s a whole range of talent that may have been previously discounted. In many ways that’s what’s contributing to the Talent challenges. Quality of life, in a world tinted by a pandemic, is now a significant decision factor for many. The idea of working toward a retirement is now antiquated. People are looking to live their lives now and work is no longer the central decision factor.’
-Brent Colescott, Senior Director of Global Business Strategy and Transformation, SumTotal Systems
From your experience as an HR leader, what are some of the biases that managers and executives must be mindful of when evaluating the performance of their employees or teams?
‘When evaluating employee performance, having systems, processes, or procedures in place can help managers and executives make better decisions and avoid biases. Some of these biases can include (1) Affinity bias – the tendency to favor someone we have similarities with that can lead managers to overlook the achievements of one employee over another; (2) Halo effect – not to let one achievement/ strength determine our entire view of an employee; and (3) Horns effect – not to let a perceived negative trait shapes our entire view of an employee,’ shares Tan.
‘Unconscious bias is detrimental to the goal of fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment. For example, a manager overlooks a female employee for a promotion because they assume she can’t balance the job duties with her family responsibilities. Or a group of co-workers choose after-hours gathering spots that are inaccessible to an officemate who uses a wheelchair or excludes part-time team members. Unconscious bias also can interfere with good teamwork and communication among employees, as well as between employees and customers, creating unnecessary cultural tensions that place employee retention and company reputation at risk.’
-Rosie Cairnes, VP APAC, Skillsoft
What are some of the systems in place to overcome biases in performance management?
‘Prior to discussing any one particular system, it’s important to note that in today’s workforce ALL systems should be accessible (securely) to any employee anywhere. To limit access to data, content or functionality to any remote employee is essentially a bias in of itself. Cloud based, SaaS, systems are best for the remote/hybrid workforce. The next step would be to ensure you have a talent and learning platform in place that allows both the capture of performance data, inventory of skills and access to development opportunities. A Learning and Talent Performance Platform will be key to ensuring the data is accessible and remains current for maximum benefit,’ advises Colescott.
‘A corporate training program focused on raising awareness about the hidden influence of stereotypes and the value of behaving in an exclusive way can help to prevent these ‘micro incidents’ from manifesting into a larger problem,’ shares Cairnes.
What are some key strategies on building a more empathetic work culture?
‘Some of the strategies in building an emphatic work culture include (1) Embracing open line communication and being an empathic listener i.e., listening actively to the needs of your employees); (2) Encouraging authentic perspective-taking by providing a safe space for employees to share their ideas and even their concerns; (3) Cultivating compassion to show genuine care on how others feel and think whilst also allowing them to contribute to the society at large; and (4) Fostering growth mindset for greater collaboration and positive working relationships,’ shares Tan.
‘Promoting psychological safety and nurturing employee wellbeing is critical for team leaders to help create an empathetic workplace. At Wisr, this looks like mandatory training for team leaders in DIEB initiatives, Mental Health and Constructive Feedback. It’s also crucial that the leadership of today lead by showing their own vulnerability. This creates successful psychological safety, which gives your team the permission to be human and be able to talk openly about their feelings, their headspace, mindset or challenges they're experiencing.'
-Kate Renner, Head of Employee Experience, Wisr