Bad working from home habits are causing problems in the office

Peninsula Team

June 10 2022

First published: June 10th, 2022

As employees return to the workplace, habits reinforced by over two years of working in isolation are leading to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

For instance, lapses in personal hygiene and failure to observe the basic office dress code are not going down well in the post-pandemic workplace.

These are not the first behavioural hiccups to have emerged since business life started getting back to normal. Many people are on a short fuse as a result of what they’ve been through and this has led to conflicts over big things such as common working days, unusual things such as employees complaining about colleagues snoring at their desks because they’ve become accustomed to taking naps when they would work from home, and unacceptable things such as unpleasant personal habits, that went unnoticed on Zoom, being brought into the office.

Inappropriate behaviour in the workplace

While there may be a “get over it” element to some of the readjustment, there are also instances of more serious lapses in office etiquette. These include inappropriate behaviour and comments directed at colleagues which have spiked since workplaces reopened.

Moira Grassick, COO at Peninsula Ireland, says, “Sexual harassment allegation queries have increased by 50 per cent which we believe is linked to employees returning to site-based environments.”

“Many of us have spent the last two years working from home and conducting meetings via video conferencing. This can often feel more casual than being with other people in an office environment and to some extent, the normal boundaries between people have dissolved. Now that employees are returning en masse, there may be a need to relearn appropriate workplace behaviour.”

Causes of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace

What’s happened to create these inappropriate exchanges is bad habits reinforced by time, in this case, two years of distorted reality. On top of this, people are returning with behaviours adopted to help them cope with the personal fallout from the pandemic and some of these coping strategies include mood-altering dependence on drugs and alcohol.  

A report from Drinkaware, published in April 2022 but looking at drinking behaviour in 2021, shows a significant shift in alcohol consumption in the period. This includes an increase in binge drinking and 61 per cent of the sample saying they drank to help them cope during 2021.

The report notes, “when the data from 2021 is viewed alongside the 2020 data, it reveals which behaviours formed in the initial lockdown have transformed into established patterns of new rituals towards alcohol. Of most concern is the increase in binge drinking, particularly among males and young adults aged 18-24 years. Specific cohorts in the Irish adult population report higher patterns of alcohol consumption, namely households with younger children and men.

Low mental wellbeing is a worrying issue identified for over half the young adult cohort and families with teenagers.”

What’s becoming abundantly clear is that the workforce today is not the same as the one that left two years ago. Consequently, businesses need to ensure their Employee Assistance Programme is up to scratch, while line managers may require post-pandemic training to reinforce the importance of continuing to check in with their teams and to be more alert to tensions simmering under the surface.

Moira says now is also a good time to remind employees about workplace policies and that businesses need to address any serious issues that may have arisen during the lockdown. “It’s important to ensure that employees have been adequately briefed around dignity and respect in the workplace and know what behaviours are and are not acceptable with no ambiguity. In relation to workplace social events and company-organised get-togethers in particular, caution must be exercised in terms of risk.”

“If an employee comes to you to try to resolve an issue informally, it’s important to be open to that, but they may also feel they have to raise a formal grievance if the circumstance requires it. A formal grievance will require the complaint to be submitted in writing which can be traumatic for those involved, so it’s important to provide proper support to all parties. If a formal complaint regarding any allegation of sexual harassment or conduct around discrimination is received, it needs to be treated with immediate action in terms of a process and structure to investigate the complaint fully and correctly.”

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Misconduct in the workplace

As a HR consultancy, we're privy to some of the more challenging situations businesses have faced in terms of dealing with poor conduct. These include the exchange of sexually explicit photos between employees on work accounts, physical violence between employees, dealing with cohabiting employees where domestic violence is present, employees pilfering inventory and selling it online, employees delivering drugs on the side and employees who kept disappearing on company time to practice the Jerusalema dance.

Moira says that bad behaviour aside, one of the other most pressing issues for employees is the cost of living, and while companies want to help, many don’t have the resources to fund pay increases.

“We haven’t had that many queries about salary benchmarking. Instead, we’re seeing businesses looking for alternative ways to help employees make ends meet. For example, teaming up with local businesses to get discounts for employees. In fact, we have a service called Bright Exchange which is a closed marketplace for our clients that aims to help businesses that have struggled during the pandemic with free marketing support and discounts and perks for their employees.”

Need HR help handling employee conduct?

For expert guidance on any workplace issue, such as investigating employee misconduct, contact Peninsula today on 0818 923 923.

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