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What executives in the UK really notice in the workplace

In our latest At Work report, we surveyed 1,000 employees and 250 executives in the United Kingdom to find out how they really feel about the workplace. Here’s what we uncovered.

Madison Stein
By Madison Stein Head of Content

Workplace habits have changed. There’s more flexibility in the way we work. People come to the office at different times and on different days. Many have built in more time for personal tasks throughout the day. Employees are setting aside old routines and attitudes in favor of new ones. But do executives see eye-to-eye with these new habits and perspectives?

In our latest At Work report, we surveyed 1,000 employees and 250 executives in the United Kingdom to find out how they feel about the workplace. Here’s what we uncovered.

94% of executives notice employees’ contributions more when they come into the workplace

We asked employees if they come into the office because leaders notice their contributions more than when they’re at home—and almost half said no. While 45% of employees believe that executives notice their work at home just as much as in the office, nearly all (94%) of executives admit they notice contributions made in the office far more.

Executives are more likely to notice the work of those coming in frequently to the office, sitting and working near them, or leading onsite presentations. Academics call this phenomenon ‘proximity bias,’ and it’s a major challenge for executives to navigate—especially in the world of hybrid work. Whereas proximity bias was once limited to your actual location in the office, hybrid and flexible working models are making this even more complicated. While the quality of the work might be the same at home, in a remote location, and in the office, where you choose to work can have implications for career growth and development for employees. 

How should executives and workplace leaders address this challenge? Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Understand the data. The first step to mitigating proximity bias is acknowledging that it is real. The fact that executives are 71% more likely to notice employees’ contributions in the workplace than employees think they are is a huge gap. Executives should think hard about their own experiences and try to answer this question honestly.
  2. Focus on performance, not office attendance. Next up, make sure that you are evaluating your team members consistently based on their outcomes. Not just how much time you spend in the same physical space as them. Face time is important, but it should not be the leading determinant in evaluating an employee’s performance.  
  3. Create more in-person interactions. Finally, in order to avoid proximity bias, you should create more opportunities for in-person interactions. This could be team days in the office to ensure employees get face time with their managers. Or it could be workplace lunches and happy hours that encourage people to come onsite. For widely dispersed workforces, you can arrange annual meetups to get employees and executives gathering together face to face.

What else do executives notice? Not as much as employees think.

Executives may be paying particular attention to contributions in the workplace, but what else are they noticing? Specifically, we were curious about what traditional office stigmas are still viewed negatively. Many companies have embraced more flexibility in when and where their employees work. So do leaders really notice when employees arrive late or leave early? Or when they run personal errands in the middle of the work day?

To find out, we asked executives what they view negatively among employees when working onsite. Then we asked employees what they believe their leaders view negatively. Surprisingly, employees in the UK tended to think that upper management cares more about mixing personal tasks with work tasks than they actually do.

Despite increased flexibility in the workplace in recent years, nearly two-thirds (64%) of office workers say there is a stigma around leaving early or coming in later. However, less than half of executives (47%) say they would view this negatively. In fact, there were very few actions that the majority of executives claim they truly care about. 

At the top of the list for executives: scrolling social media (48% would view this negatively), performing personal tasks on their work computer (33%), and running personal errands during the workday (33%). But that’s not the perception that employees have. More than half of employees think that their leaders take notice of those same actions. 

The only stigma that executives viewed much more negatively than employees is eating lunch outside the office (7% of employees vs 16% of executives). Executives have placed more emphasis on the workplace as a place for relationship building and could view lunch as an important time to socialize.

The takeaway

Navigating the new norms of office life has presented challenges for both executives and employees alike. Employees are still figuring out what the new office do’s and don’ts are when it comes to personal time, flexible hours, and balancing work and life. 

On the other hand, executives’ views have changed. They’ve adjusted outdated views on office stigmas and are accepting new norms that empower employee comfort in the workplace. There’s still a bit to go to get employees and executives truly seeing eye-to-eye. Facing the data is the first step to closing that gap.

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Curious which other ways employees and leader differ on the workplace?

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

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Madison Stein
Author Bio Madison Stein

Madison is a writer, story-teller, and problem-solver at Envoy, where she inspires workplace teams to make the workplace work better. When she's not thinking of clever puns in the office, you can find her on the beach with her dog, planning her next vacation, or exploring new restaurants in San Francisco.