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Are You Gaslighting Your Employees?

As the return-to-office debate forges on, are you guilty of downplaying your employee's concerns or questioning their work-from-home experiences?

According to Webster's Dictionary, gaslighting is defined as "psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories... ."

We've heard the term applied a lot in the personal relationships sphere, but it has now reared it's head in the workplace arena. A popular anti-work thread on Reddit recently had a post that accused an employer of gaslighting them around coming back into the office. A Redditor named UselessWidget stated:

It's obvious that, in the evolving landscape of the modern workplace, the concept of what the 'office' looks like continues to be critically evaluated.

Employer vs Employee Perspective

As the debate continues, both employers and employees are bringing their experiences, values, wants, and needs to the table. Employers feel the return to office is a chance to regain a sense of cohesion and collaboration that remote work may have diluted. Their thinking is that face-to-face interactions foster more spontaneous brainstorming, quicker decision-making, and a more cohesive company culture, and that the physical workspace can be curated to facilitate teamwork. Some employers are also looking for a clearer line of sight into their employee's activities in order to address any concerns around performance or engagement.

Employees, on the other hand, are extolling the advantages of working at home, with particular focus on added flexibility that allows them to better manage personal commitments. Break times can be used to do chores at home; time spent commuting can now be used to pursue hobbies or other activities. It has increased engagement for many through the additional autonomy and control they've gained in their lives. For some, not having to deal with less agreeable coworkers on a regular basis has also been a perk.

There are some employees who want to go back to the office, but the vast majority are still on the remote bandwagon, with 65% reporting the desire to work remotely 100% of the time. Those organizations that are forcing employees back full time are losing and hybrid work is emerging as the new 'normal'.

A lot of it, in my opinion, comes down to values and personalities.

Many managers who want their employees back in the office are, often, not great managers. They feel the need to keep a physical eye on the happenings of their team and their tasks, and are challenged by how to effectively manage a remote team.

There are also the extroverts who value in-person interactions more than the introverts do. Extroverts excel in environments where they can interact, brainstorm, and often prefer crowds to solitude. Extroverts are social people, and tend to be talkative and thrive in the company of others. They may be the ones who are feeling most disconnected in the remote work world.

Those two groups are the most happiest to return to the office.

But the introverts are thriving in the remote workplace, having finally found peace and an ability to focus without the constant interruption of the extroverts. They have been provided with additional methods of communicating which much better suit their personalities - instant messaging for one.

Women are also thriving in the work from home scenario. Juggling child care and work has traditionally fallen to women and 57% of women say having flexible working hours is very important versus 44% of men who say the same.

Then there are the managers who recognize, and allow for, everyone to thrive by enabling their people. They aren't as fussed about where their teams physically do the work, as long as it gets done on time, and well. They value output and trust their team members and look for tools to help build collaboration rather than insisting that in-person is the only way that works. They aren't gaslighting those whose values differ from their own into believing their experiences are any less true or valid than others.

If you're in the group of individuals driving a return of all staff back to the office, I urge you to consider the reasons why, and reflect on whether or not it's really more about you and your perspective. What do your people want and need and is it something you can actually support? Taking time to truly understand the individual perspectives of your team and what they value as people who happen to work for you will go a long way towards building trust and mutual understanding.


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