What Is Proximity Bias And How Is It Hurting Your Organization?



Proximity Bias In The Remote Workplace: How Does It Affect Employees?

As more companies embrace a hybrid work model where some employees work in the office and others remotely, the latter seem to be facing a new challenge: proximity bias. This phenomenon refers to the tendency of leaders and managers to overlook remote employees in favor of those in closer proximity or, in other words, on-site employees. This can sometimes happen unintentionally, but it can also stem from a false assumption that remote employees are less hard-working and productive. This article explores 5 ways in which proximity bias negatively affects remote employees, as well as what leaders can do to mitigate it.

What Are The Causes Of Proximity Bias?

Since we have defined what proximity bias is, let’s look at why it occurs. What is it that makes leaders show preferential treatment towards on-site employees? It seems that this phenomenon stems from a deep-rooted human tendency to trust what is closer and more visible to them, combined with a mixture of internalized assumptions and unconscious biases. Specifically, the more regular interaction managers have with on-site employees might lead them to trust them more and assign them more tasks. Not to mention that communicating with them is much simpler and more direct than with remote employees. Finally, it’s easy for leaders to assume that remote employees are not as productive since they can’t actually witness them working.

5 Ways In Which Proximity Bias Impacts Remote Employees

Now that we know some of the causes behind proximity bias, we will look at some ways it impacts remote employees.

1. Decreased Motivation And Morale

A very serious impact proximity bias can have is on employee motivation and engagement. The feeling of being overlooked and your achievements undervalued by your supervisors can quickly lead to disengagement. Besides, what’s the point of putting in the extra effort if more “visible” employees are going to get all the recognition anyway? If this situation goes on for too long, the prolonged stress and frustration of dealing with proximity bias can seriously impact an employee’s morale and mental health. Eventually, this will take a toll on their overall productivity and job satisfaction.

2. Increased Turnover Rate

It’s easy to see how proximity bias could lead to elevated turnover rates and, in turn, increased hiring costs for your organization. When employees feel unappreciated in their current position, they are more likely to seek alternative employment. This is especially true if proximity bias in your organization is affecting their professional development, costing them chances for promotions, pay raises, or access to learning opportunities. The increasing sense of inequality will eventually build up, ultimately causing them to accept a competitor’s offer or simply search for another position.

3. Reduced Access To Informal Learning

Proximity bias can often cause organizations to neglect to build a robust remote work culture that gives employees the tools to communicate, collaborate, and interact effectively. As a result, remote employees may miss important opportunities for informal learning. These are learning moments that happen spontaneously while working on a project, discussing with team members or colleagues from other departments, or casually interacting during a lunch break. If leaders unknowingly favor on-site employees, they will exclude remote employees from such occurrences, thus impacting their ability to evolve and become better at what they do.

4. Limited Rewards And Recognition

A saying that comes to mind when talking about proximity bias is “out of sight, out of mind.” And a result of that is that leaders and managers give less recognition to the achievements of their remote employees. This might be because the performance of on-site employees is more visible as it’s easier for leadership to be involved in it. Another reason would be a lack of rewards designed for remote employees. For example, if an organization tends to celebrate achievements with office parties or other on-site events, remote employees will have no incentive to strive to win them.

5. Skewed Perception Of Dedication And Commitment

The fact that the accomplishments of remote employees are not given the appropriate amount of attention can lead to a flawed perception of their contributions to organizational success. If leadership consistently favors workers who are closer to them, remote employees will rarely receive the recognition they deserve. As a result, leaders will get the impression that remote employees don’t perform as well as their on-site counterparts. This perceived lack of commitment and dedication to the company will cause leaders to pass remote workers over whenever an advancement opportunity comes up or an important project needs to be assigned.

What Can Leadership Do?

It’s crucial that leadership take measures against proximity bias to create an inclusive and fair work environment for all employees, regardless of their location. The most important measure would be implementing clear communication channels so that all employees can interact and collaborate effectively, whether they work in the office or from home. It’s also critical that they stop equating performance with presence. Measuring everyone’s achievements through assessments and goal progression is a much better way to gauge their performance than how many times they have shown up at the office. Additionally, they must invest in technology that will make all meetings and office events accessible to remote employees so that every voice can be heard. Finally, training will help leadership recognize the warning signs of proximity bias and treat all employees equally.

Conclusion

Proximity bias poses a significant challenge for organizations operating on a hybrid model. If left unchecked, this phenomenon can seriously impact your remote workforce’s morale, causing their productivity to drop and even leading to disengagement and burnout. However, if leadership is willing to understand proximity bias, where it comes from, and how it can be overcome, it is possible to create an equitable workplace for all employees. By giving equal opportunities to all, employee productivity and satisfaction will significantly increase, driving organizational success in the long run.



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