By Joseph A. Mann Jr.
Top-performing private sector employees working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic often suffered severe negative effects, including putting in excessively long hours, high levels of work-related strain, low job satisfaction and burnout … the opposite of their pre-pandemic experiences, according to research by an academic team that included an FIU Business professor.
Results of the research, carried out by Sebastian Schuetz, assistant professor of information systems and business analytics at FIU Business, and three other academic collaborators, were published in May 2021 in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The research found that remote work under COVID-19 removed the normal office cues all employees rely on to do their jobs and created uncertainty about how much work had to be done and when.
Under these conditions, the most conscientious employees tried to maintain productivity or become more productive, but at a heavy price: To meet the increased job demands, many experienced higher strain and lower job satisfaction, and headed toward job burnout. As a result, companies risked losing some of their most productive employees.
Working remotely, expectations from management and other types of feedback were not always clear, and this uncertainty led to overwork, strain and lower job satisfaction and a reduced sense of well-being.
The researchers compared individual and managerial reports from diversified samples of white-collar workers in the hospitality industry in 2019 and 2020, before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conscientious employees usually enjoy high levels of career and personal satisfaction, excellent work-life balance and quality of life plus other positive benefits. Yet working remotely, conscientious employees often set high individual standards they could not achieve, the research found.
"Working remotely, expectations from management and other types of feedback were not always clear, and this uncertainty led to overwork, strain, lower job satisfaction and a reduced sense of wellbeing," Schuetz said.
To remedy this situation, managers need to establish better communications with their employees, provide clear guidelines and organizational support – like wellness programs – that warn about the effects of workaholism, Schuetz said. Otherwise, "they risk losing the best horses in the stable," he said.
The other researchers were Viswanath Venkatesh of Virginia Tech, Daniel C. Ganster of Colorado State University and Tracy Ann Sykes of the University of Arkansas.