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Do US offices suffer from proximity bias? Our data says it’s a problem

96% of US executives admit to noticing the work of employees coming into the office more than remote work.

Working from home has offered employees the chance to blend their personal and work life. They can work flexible hours or spend more time with their families. But when it comes to career development in a hybrid work model, remote employees may be getting the shorter end of the stick.

In our latest workplace trends report, At Work: how employees and executives really feel about the workplace, we uncover the gaps that divide people in the workplace. We were curious to know if proximity bias, the psychological effect that leads us to favor people and ideas that are familiar more than those that are unfamiliar, was affecting US-based executives in the new world of hybrid work.

So we surveyed 1,000 employees and 250 executives in the United States to find out how big of a deal proximity bias is. Here’s what we uncovered.

96% of US executives admit they’re more likely to notice the contribution of employees in the office

Remote work has grown. Also, high-quality technology that connects people from all over the world has grown. Given the new landscape of work, one might think that executives value work done from home as much as in the office. We were curious to find out if this is a shared belief across executives and employees.

While 42% of employees believe executives notice their contributions as much as remotely in the office, almost all (96%) of executives admit they notice contributions made in the office far more. Proximity bias in the workplace can mean that executives are noticing and favoring the work of those who are present in the office. While the quality of the work is the same, the physical location of the work can create favoritism in the workplace. And almost half of hybrid of formerly remote employees (42%) aren’t aware that this could be affecting them.

Females executives are more cognizant of proximity bias

Even among executives, we noticed a difference in opinions. While all executives place greater value on in-office contributions, a greater percentage of female executives (8%*) notice contributions that employees make at home compared to their male counterparts (3%).

In our survey, we also asked executives if they viewed the office as a place for productivity or relationship-building. Those who voted for productivity were also the ones most likely to notice in-office contributions more. This isn’t surprising as those who view the workplace’s primary role as productivity would be interested in seeing their employees get work done in the office.

Gen Z employees are most aligned with executives

We were curious how different generations felt about their work contributions and were surprised by the results. Gen Z employees, those born after 1996, were the most aligned with executives. 73%* of Gen Z employees think onsite contributions are noticed more, while the rest of the generations average around 56%.

Gen Z employees are likely at the earlier point in establishing their career and want more face-time with leaders at their company. Many of them are also growing their career out of the pandemic. So they recognize the value of in-person collaboration, learning, and training.

Well-being in the office plays a role in visibility

Also, we found that well-being at the office was an important factor in how all employees responded to our proximity bias survey question.

62% of employees who believe their office is conducive to mental well-being come into the office because their contributions are noticed more. When the office supports their wellness, happiness, and mental health, it seems to be more enticing for employees to choose over working from home.

Proximity bias is a problem for everyone to solve

So what does this mean for workplace leaders? Proximity bias isn’t a burden for employees or leaders alone. It’s a shared workplace issue that each group can work towards resolving. Executives need to be more aware and mindful of the contributions coming from their employees—no matter where they work. Managers and leaders need training on how to address and overcome proximity bias, so they can make sure they’re creating an inclusive and fair work environment.

For employees looking for career development, our survey data might mean that it’s important to come into the office to let work shine. Employees should consider going into the office to lead presentations, have important meetings face-to-face, and work on big-scale projects. As a workplace leader it’s important to understand the major misalignments between employees and leadership on the workplace to create a more cohesive working environment.

*Small base size: findings are directional

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Curious which other gaps divide employees and leaders in the workplace?

Explore the rest of the findings in At Work: how employees and executives actually feel about the workplace.

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Maria Akhter
Author Bio Maria Akhter

Maria is a content marketing manager at Envoy, where she helps workplace leaders build a workplace their people love. Outside of work, her passions include exploring the outdoors, checking out local farmers' markets, and drinking way too much coffee.