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Microsoft Touts Benefits of Flexible Work Hour Trend

According to a recent Microsoft "Work Trend Index" report, the company says that the shift to a remote workforce over the last couple of years has yielded positive returns.     

The report, released Wednesday, found that employees have adopted an "is it worth it stance" when it comes to work. That conclusion is based on survey results finding that "53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic."

Younger workers are more likely to switch employers, which was the view of "52% of Gen Z and Millennials," according to the report. However, the report found more generally that "43% of employees are somewhat or extremely likely to consider changing jobs in the coming year, up slightly year-over-year from 41%."

The report is based on survey results from various employees, both workers and managers. It was devised for Microsoft by the Edelman Data x Intelligence research firm, which polled "31,102 full-time employed or self-employed workers across 31 markets between January 7, 2022 and February 16, 2022."

So far, Microsoft has released two previous reports in this series, one in March and one in September of last year. The reports are a bit different, but offer the common view that organizations need to adapt to employee expectations, as shaped by 2020 pandemic times, which initiated a work-from-home trend.

What Employees Want
Workers want to get paid, but the percent saying so wasn't described in the report.

Here are the top other things workers want in a job, according to the report:

  • Positive culture -- 46%
  • Mental health/wellbeing benefits -- 42%
  • A sense of purpose/meaning -- 40%
  • Flexible work hours -- 38%
  • More than the standard two weeks of paid vacation time each year -- 36%,

The report mostly included a few quotes from middle managers, but it claimed to be a broader survey that included opinions from so-called "frontline workers," information workers and non-business decision managers, along with business leaders.

The Quitting Continues
In 2020, the survey found that 17 percent of employees had left their jobs, but that figure increased to 18 percent in 2021.

This month's study, using 2022 data, listed the following top reasons for quitting:

  • Personal wellbeing or mental health -- 24 percent
  • Work-life balance -- 24 percent
  • Risk of getting COVID-19 -- 21 percent
  • Lack of confidence in senior management -- 21 percent
  • Lack of flexible work hours or location -- 21 percent
  • Not receiving promotions or raises -- 19 percent.

Remote vs. Hybrid Work
The survey polled employees on their views about working remotely all of the time vs. working partly at home and partly at an office (so-called "hybrid" workers). As with Microsoft's first Work Trend Index report, somewhat mixed feelings were reflected in the poll results.

Of the employees already working hybrid (office work plus remote work), 51 percent said they'd consider switching to pure remote work. Meanwhile, 57 percent of employees who were already working remotely would consider switching to a hybrid work approach.

Remote work opens the possibility for workers to move, and that notion was polled. Per the report's 2022 data, 38 percent were considering such moves. Back in 2021, 46 percent said they were considering moving.

Microsoft's Advice
The report concluded that organizations should be flexible and prioritize the well-being of employees. Those aims could be best carried out by empowering managers, it added.

However, managers, according to the survey results, didn't feel empowered. The survey found that "74% of managers say they don't have the influence or resources to make change for employees." Additionally, "54% of managers say leadership is out of touch with employees."

The report seemed to accept that view that company leadership is out of touch with its employees and offered an analysis. It's happening because companies now want employees back in the office following the pandemic separation.

The report indicated that about half of companies were planning to require full-time office work by their employees in the coming year, based on the survey results. "This percentage is even higher for leaders in the manufacturing (55%), retail (54%), and consumer goods (53%) industries," the report added.

Such organizations wanting workers back in the office are just bucking the flexibility needed to support the positive aspects of the remote work trend, the report argued. And such flexibility has already emerged, with about one in seven U.S. jobs now having a remote-work option for employees, compared with one in 67 jobs back in 2020, the report argued, citing data from the Linked-In career site, which is owned by Microsoft.

Organizational leadership tends to fear that remote or hybrid work is adversely affecting productivity. However, that view greatly contrasts with employee views, per the report:

Despite 80% of employees saying they are just as or more productive since going remote or hybrid, 54% of leaders fear productivity has been negatively impacted since the shift.

Putting workers back in the office will not rebuild the "social capital we've lost over the past two years," the report argued. Instead, organizations should empower managers as "culture keepers" and enable flexible work circumstances for employees.

This culture sentiment was emphasized by Jared Spataro, Microsoft's corporate vice president for modern work, in an editorial associated with the report.

"The shift to a hybrid workplace doesn't start with new technology or corporate policies," Spataro stated. "It begins with culture -- one that embraces a growth mindset, a willingness to reimagine nearly every aspect of the way work gets done."

However, Microsoft did describe some budding Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365 software improvements, coming in Q2 this year, that it thinks can help, as described in this announcement. The improvements include RSVPs in Outlook to better schedule meetings, new Microsoft Teams "front row" views of meeting participants for a more inclusive feel, plus some usability enhancements for users of the Teams Rooms and Microsoft Surface Hub 2 videoconferencing devices.

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