Support, don't micromanage, say researchers who find WFH intensified 'anxiety' in some

Feeling empowerment and autonomy at work reportedly key when toiling remotely

Many office workers no longer want to sacrifice their entire working week at their desk – the corporate altar of commerce – but for some with "a higher level of neuroticism," the work from home revolution has intensified "anxiety and stress."

Or so says research [PDF] undertaken by the King's Business School and Norwich Business School in England, which found feelings of lower empowerment, as well as decreased perceptions of job satisfaction and overall well being. The study involved 337 people who were polled during lockdown.

Empowerment refers to the staff member's sense of control, competence, and autonomy at work. Those getting better support from their employer felt more able to take decisions on their own and voiced generally better states of emotional welfare.


Study finds a quarter of bosses hoped RTO would make employees quit


Back in 2020 amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the sudden switch for remote working "intensified feelings of anxiety and stress for workers with higher level of neuroticism, with a potential lack of preparedness for the WFH environment exacerbating emotional instability."

The researchers are at pains to point out that more substantial support should not be misinterpreted for "increasing oversight by managers," and noted that those bosses who closely monitor their team "inevitably [made] those employees feel less empowered".

"If employees feel that their organization supports and empowers them to get on with their job in the context of a sudden change, then those employees are more likely to experience increased well-being," said research author Duncan Jackson, reader of organizational psychology & human resource management at King's Business School.

Microsoft previously highlighted that some managers suffer from so-called productivity paranoia, meaning if they can't see workers physically they are not sure they're working effectively.

Just last month, research indicated that HR folk are worried that return to office mandates are leading to higher staff attrition rates, something analysts warned about during the pandemic. Employees have grown accustomed to the flexibility of mixing up where they work and now demand this.

According to Jackson at King's Business School, corporations must demonstrate support for their workforce and "not just pay lip service to the idea of support."

"Managers need to remove any hint of micromanagement, pressure, and surveillance over employees when they're working remotely. By showing that employees are trusted to manage their work activities, organizations and managers can develop an empowering environment conducive to well-being."

Staff employing higher level of empowerment reported that this positively reinforced their mental wellbeing.

"Our findings clearly show that, in general, organizations should empower remote working employees if they want to protect their well-being and prevent them from seeking an alternative job," said Amanda Jones, associate professor in organizational behaviour and human resource management at King's Business School.

"However, we can also see that a 'one size fits all' approach to managing remote workers may be a mistake. Some people will require much more structure and direction than others, especially where remote working is a requirement, rather than a choice."

With more and more tech companies – from Dell, Google, and AWS, to Meta, Workday, IBM and many, many more – demanding their employees spend at least part of the time working from the office, they may do well to ensure they correctly support their staff all the time.

Out of sight should not be out of mind. ®

Editor's note: This article was revised to sharpen up our interpretation and summary of the study's findings.

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like