Almost every employee has had to adapt to a new working environment during the COVID-19 pandemic. The unpredictability of the pandemic has made adjusting to new work styles particularly challenging. Most of us have anecdotal experiences about the frustrations associated with the new working world, but how have employees, as a whole, reacted to the sudden changes in work?
EMOTIONAL RESPONSE TO WORKING FROM HOME
New research (Min et al., 2021) investigated how people emotionally reacted to disruptive events during the pandemic. In their study, the researchers used a machine learning algorithm to examine the content of 1.56 million tweets posted by 706,142 Twitter users between March 1, 2020 and July 1, 2020.
Results demonstrated that tweets showed large declines in anger, disgust, fear, and sadness towards working from home when stay-at-home orders went into effect (with a large immediate rise in joy). However, these effects were relatively short lived. Once the stay-at-home orders had been in effect for some time, the public’s anger and disgust towards working from home showed a large rise (with a large decline in joy). With this emotional shift, public anger and disgust towards working from home either returned back to pre-order levels or, in some cases, exceeded the pre-order levels. There were no significant emotional changes in relation to the daily count of new confirmed cases.
The researchers argue that uncertainty associated with re-opening plans may influence emotions at the later stages of stay-at-home orders. Once the expiration date of the stay-at-home orders approaches, employees have to deal with new stressors such as potential virus exposure, adapting to new organization rules related to COVID, as well as stressors at home due to school closures.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Many organizations such as Facebook and Google have allowed employees to work from home throughout the pandemic. Organizations such as Twitter have even offered the option for employees to work from home permanently. The results from this study show the potential impact that these policies may have on employee emotions over time.
Results from this study showed that the issuing of stay-at-home orders was accompanied by immediate emotional benefits such as reduced anger, reduced disgust, and increased joy. However, these emotional benefits faded over time. Practically, offering work from home policies may yield immediate benefits to employees. However, organizations should continue to offer support for employees who choose to work from home in order to sustain these emotional benefits. Offering policies such as flexible work hours or childcare support may aid employees as they transition to working from home full-time.
Min, H., Peng, Y., Shoss, M., & Yang, B. (2021). Using machine learning to investigate the public’s emotional responses to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(2), 214-229.