Remote work is here to stay. The pandemic has many workers determined to re-evaluate work/life balance, what they do for a living and how meaningful it is, and more. As a result, according to a survey by Microsoft, over 40% of workers are considering changing employers, and nearly half of those are considering changing career fields altogether.
A separate study from Hire a Helper also found that 28% of movers relocated because they started working remotely and no longer had to live close to work.
What does that mean to those of us who work remotely or in a hybrid environment?
Together with Censuswide, Promoleaf conducted a survey of 1,012 US employees who indefinitely work remotely full-time since the pandemic to find out whether or not they felt engaged and appreciated by their employers, and the impact of those feelings on their career decisions.
The results show that hybrid work is here to stay, and many employees want that flexibility to continue, even if it means changing jobs or careers. However, our survey went a little deeper. Why do we as employees feel underappreciated? What can employers do to improve how we feel? And what are the consequences if they don’t?
From expectations to solutions, here is why appreciation is so important to hybrid and remote workers everywhere.
First, one of the most significant things we found was just because someone feels engaged does not mean they feel appreciated. How do we know? When we asked employees, “How engaged, if at all, or unengaged do you feel by your current employer?” 79% felt that they were somewhat or very engaged with their current employer. Only 15% didn’t feel very engaged, and a mere 6% felt they were not engaged at all.
But when we asked the same set of respondents, “Do you think companies should be doing more to show appreciation to their employees who are working remotely?” 54% of respondents said, “Yes, definitely.” Another 26% said, “Yes, probably.” This means nearly the same number of employees who felt engaged also felt employers could do more to show appreciation.
What’s the difference between the two? “Often, I feel engaged with my peers,” one worker told us. “But when I reach out to management, sometimes it can take several hours to get a response.” When we are “at work” we can see a closed office door, a dark office, or may know that our boss is in a meeting. It is important that we can “know” the same thing even when working remotely.
And employees can lead by example, setting their “away” settings when they are away from their computers or otherwise engaged. However, we often feel uncomfortable doing that. “I don’t want my boss to think I am not working,” said that same employee. “So I try to answer messages as soon as I can after I get them.”
This is certainly not true of all employers. “I think just like in the traditional workplace, making sure to give employees praise and kudos in public when well deserved is important,” says Nikki, who works for a 100% remote company, QuoteBeam. “And it can be done just as easily over video meetings or in public slack channels or whatever collaboration tools the company is using.”
Other CEOs and management are very engaged in Slack channels and work to keep connected with employees and keep as much openness and transparency as they do with on-site workers. “I try to be present as much as possible,” Chris Martin, CEO of Lithium SEO, a digital marketing company with a 100% remote workforce, told us. “If my office door can’t be literally open for employees, my message inbox needs to take the place of that.”
But recognition is just a part of appreciation. Employees also want to have their needs met while working at home. What exactly do employees want (and need) to feel appreciated?
First of all, most employees (70%) say that small perks are somewhat or very important factors when they are applying for a new job. The desire to know they will be appreciated starts even before they are hired. This is especially true when hiring remote employees, as remote onboarding brings its own challenges.
But a surprising statistic from the Microsoft survey we mentioned above shows that even after over a year of required remote work, 42% say they lack the office supplies they need at home, 1 in 10 does not have an adequate internet connection to work at home, and 46% say their employers don’t help them at all with the costs of working at home.
We asked "What work from home 'office items' would you appreciate the most?"
Internet service to be paid for
Phone bill to be paid for
While all of these may seem like work from home basics, not every company supplies them, and this failure often occurs early in the remote onboarding process. “I waited two weeks for a laptop,” one employee who wanted to remain anonymous told us. “When it came, it took another week for IT to help set it up remotely. I nearly quit, even though I was getting paid for essentially doing nothing while I waited.”
“We’ve stepped up our retention rate by engaging with our remote employees and offering all kinds of helpful equipment from office chairs to keyboards and headphones, says Magda Klimkiewicz, HR Business Partner at Zety. “With the occasional bottle of wine thrown in.” While also a way to engage, this action shows appreciation by meeting the needs of remote workers.
“Our company offers us a technology stipend,” Sharon Adams told us. “We can use it for monitors, desks, chairs, and more. And we can order through the company catalog, so we get their wholesale discount.”
Research has shown that the simple addition of a second monitor increases productivity, so it is very much in the interest of employers to invest in each of their employees' virtual office spaces.
But besides from the work from home basics, what other unique perks show employees you appreciate them? What do those look like? We asked, “What do you think are the most successful ways to show appreciation for remote workers, if any?” and let respondents make up to three choices.
The top answer was gift vouchers for lunches at 50%, something Janelle Owens, HR Director at Test Prep Insight, an online education company, feels is really successful for their company. “One employee benefit we offer to our remote employees that have provided real bang for our buck has been a DoorDash budget,” she told us. “To show our remote employees that we appreciate their hard work and long hours ... we give them a $30 weekly DoorDash credit.” While there are some conditions, she says: “Our team members constantly talk about it... Given that it only costs us $120 per month for each remote employee, it offers a tremendous return on investment in terms of employee appreciation.”
Those respondents in the 35-44 age group and those in the professional services industry both were most desirous of those lunch vouchers, with almost three in five (59%) listing them as a top choice.
In addition to food, 41% chose small gift items such as apparel and household items (like mugs, drinkware, and similar things). Online learning, virtual happy hours, and one-on-one recognition meetings with a manager all made the list as well.
Similar results came from our follow-up question: “What small perks would you appreciate the most whilst working remotely, if any?” In which we allowed participants to choose up to three answers. Number one? A snack box subscription paid for by their employer at 44%.
Many also wanted movie and music streaming subscriptions paid for, and around 30% felt that t-shirts, apparel, and other clothing items would add to their feeling of being appreciated. What’s the real takeaway from this set of questions?
Doing something is better than nothing at all. If you’re an employer and don’t have any remote worker appreciation perks in place, you might not have remote workers for long. If you are a remote worker and feeling unappreciated, this might be a way for you to let your employer know you need more from them.
Does engagement and appreciation have an affect on our mental health? Multiple studies, and the results of our survey, say yes.
When we asked overall respondents to self-assess their current wellbeing, 68% answered that it was somewhat or very good. Only around 11% felt it was somewhat or very bad. However, in those who felt very engaged with their current employer, that 68% number rose to 85%. Those numbers were slightly lower in the healthcare field, likely due to the stress on front-line workers during the pandemic. In short, those who felt more engaged with their current employer had a better overall feeling about their own wellbeing.
We asked “How would you rate your current well-being?
When we look at declines in mental health, it is important to note the impact on our performance in the workplace. Studies by the American Psychiatric Association show that workers with unresolved depression see a drop of 35% in productivity.
It turns out that self-care is important to employees, too, and remote work has become a part of that for many. “If I made to return to an office, I would look for another position,” Nikki told us. “I am not interested in commuting long hours or living in a housing market that isn't a fit for me and my family. I also value my ability to travel and be flexible with my schedule, and I value an employer that understands that.”
What about company gatherings? And are there any advantages to employees who work on-site vs. those who work remotely?
First of all, the global survey from Microsoft shows that while 73% of employees want flexible and remote options to continue, 67% are looking forward to more in-person interaction and collaboration going forward.
When it comes to an in-person, company-wide gathering, 45% of our respondents would be interested, and another 28% would be conditionally interested if vaccines were mandatory for attendees. While many people love remote and hybrid work, many, including business travelers, are anxious to get on the road and back to seeing coworkers in person again. However, they aren’t overly anxious to get back to a pre-pandemic normal again.
We asked “How do you feel about attending a company-wide meetup in person?”
Only interested if vaccination required
In fact, when asked if employees who were in the office had an advantage over those who worked remotely, our respondents were about evenly split between the answers “Yes, No, and Unsure.”
How do employers feel? When we asked HR professionals, we got mixed answers. “One of the difficulties when it comes to professional development and career advancement for hybrid workforces is that some opportunities just aren't possible via distance,” says Trevor Larson, CEO of Nectar, an HR software company. “You need to make it clear when you hire people that if they want to pursue certain career paths, especially ones that involve increasing leadership responsibilities, they need to be in the office. Be clear about this from the get-go, and you will avoid people feeling deceived or disillusioned with the job.”
In contrast, Adam Hempenstall, founder and CEO at Better Proposals, told us: “This is actually pretty simple - don’t judge someone for simply showing up at work. Career opportunities should be given according to performance, so make sure that wherever your employees are, they are valued based on their output, not how much you (don’t) see them in person.”
“Ideally, the remote/office distinction shouldn’t affect career advancement,” Klimkiewicz of Zety told us. “It is perfectly possible to measure the progress of an employee working remotely as long as regular online meetings are held, and development opportunities are discussed with the same openness as one does with an employee at the office.”
In short, while we want to get together again, we don’t want to be forced into a return to work on a permanent basis, at least for the most part. But while working remotely, we want to feel just as engaged and appreciated as we do in an office.
“This isn’t as hard as you would think,” a Buffer employee who wanted to remain anonymous told us. “Buffer has been doing it for years. Other companies could adapt and follow their example.”
But do you, as an employee, feel appreciated? What happens if you don’t?
First of all, when we asked employees directly if there were any instances during the pandemic where they felt unappreciated, only 41% said never. The remaining 59% felt unappreciated, at least occasionally. Why did they feel that way?
For the 59% of respondents that said they felt unappreciated by their employer while working remotely, here were their top reasons for feeling that way.
Lack of support
Lack of recognition
Interestingly, there were nearly the same number of respondents who felt that contact from their employer was too infrequent and those who felt micromanaged. This speaks not only to the need for balance but the need for employers to adopt different management methods for different employees.
It also puts some burden on employees as well. It’s equally important to be transparent with your employer. If they are doing something that is not working for you as a remote worker, you should feel as free to share that with them as you would if you are in the office.
But what happens if you continue to feel unappreciated? How long would you put up with it before you started job hunting?
When we asked those who felt unappreciated by their employers (594 of our survey participants) what it resulted in and allowed them to pick more than one answer, we found the answer was seldom anything good.
Said their mental health declined
Applied for new jobs
Felt their productivity dropped
Left the company they were working for
Encouraged their colleagues to leave
Wrote a bad review online
Only just over 11% felt that being unappreciated motivated them to work harder to earn that appreciation. When we take each of these factors individually, we see that underappreciated employees have a huge impact on business.
Remember when we mentioned the impact of mental health on productivity? Add to that the fact that so many people are looking to change jobs or careers, and that from these results a large number of those feel unappreciated at work, and you have a business crisis of potentially epic proportions.
“It was a really dismal time, and it made me realize this isn’t worth it,” 23-year-old Aislinn Potts of Murfreesboro, Tennessee told the Washington Post. When the pandemic added additional stress to what was already a challenging job with low pay, she left her $11-an-hour job as an aquatic specialist at a national pet chain in April to focus on writing and art. “My life isn’t worth a dead-end job.”
Like others in fields where they feel underappreciated and underpaid, many are leaving their jobs for additional opportunities, and companies are offering a host of perks to keep and attract workers. “During the pandemic, I grew to really appreciate my family,” said another anonymous employee who wanted to protect his job and privacy. He and his wife are both looking to switch jobs and move out of the city into the more affordable suburbs of Chicago. “We always thought we were a middle-class family that would follow the same path as our parents. Now we’re both just excited at the prospect of a different, less stressful way of life.”
Both employees and companies are starting to rethink what engagement and appreciation look like, and it may take some time for both to adjust. How much time do employers have? According to our survey, the mean months an employee will feel underappreciated is 8.64 before they will look for employment elsewhere, but a full 44% of employees would last six months or less. For employers, the clock is ticking, and every day employees are realizing that, for the moment at least, we have choices.
As employees, we want to be seen and heard, engaged and appreciated. But we don’t want to feel micromanaged either. Just like in an in-person workplace, this balance is difficult to achieve, but for remote workers, this may be an even greater challenge.
One of the “other” responses to our survey summed it up perfectly: “There are little to no barriers between work and home life when working remotely.” One in five of the respondents to the Microsoft survey feel that “their employer does not care about their work/life balance.” However, it turns out employees do care. Like some of our anonymous responses show, family and home life has become more important than any job.
Why remain anonymous then? Most of our respondents didn’t want their employers to read this article and suffer some kind of retaliation, but nearly all are looking for work. “I don’t want my boss to read this article and see my name,” the IT employee who took two weeks to receive his company laptop told us. “But I do want him to read this article. I want him to understand that just because I am not in the office doesn’t mean I don’t need his attention and support.”
Three weeks later, he has yet to have his first video meeting with his new team lead. Even though he just started his job six weeks ago, “I’m looking around for sure,” he said. “There has to be something better out there.”
So what should you do if you, like our IT employee, still feel underappreciated?
The key on both sides is communication. If your employer can’t show you they value you no matter where and how you work, it might be time to find someone who does. And if you are an employer, listen to what those who work for you are saying. Listen, and do something about it before they do.
What does all this data mean? There are several key takeaways for employers and employees alike.
The changes to work as we know it are here to stay. Remote and hybrid work will, for many industries, become the norm. It will take time for adjustments to happen and for the dust to settle into whatever the future of work will look like. But one thing that won’t change is the need for employees to feel engaged and appreciated, no matter where they are and what they are doing.
The research was conducted for PromoLeaf by Censuswide, with 1,012 US employees who indefinitely work remotely full-time since the pandemic. The survey was conducted on June 2, 2021. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.