A third of young workers concerned about proximity bias

A third (34%) of 18-to-24-year-olds are concerned that working remotely will mean they miss out on progression opportunities.

Proximity bias, the idea that those in close physical proximity to leadership will be perceived as better workers, is causing concern for 21% of people overall, with 55-to-64-year-olds among the least concerned (7%).

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Meg Donovan, chief people officer at software company Nexthink, said the research confirms some assumptions HR was already aware of, that younger workers haven’t had chance to develop the strategies they need to be successful remotely.

“Proximity bias is a legitimate concern that every level in an organisation needs to be cognisant of as it can contribute to burnout and turnover,” she told HR magazine.

“As an organisation, remedying this means democratising employee experience to give equitable opportunity to engage, interact and grow.”

Having a strategy for tackling proximity bias, Donovan added, will be critical to talent retention.

She said: “If your organisation is deliberate about addressing these challenges, and being inclusive, then the effect of proximity bias can be lessened, which will be critical to retaining talent in this market.”

Nadia Vatalidis, VP of people at HR software provider Remote, said proximity bias is harder to work with in hybrid work environments than those that are remote-first because not everyone is in the same boat.

The issue however lies with leadership, she said, and she suggested a few ways to help.

“Document everything. More especially if you are the one working remotely while others don't,” Vatalidis told HR magazine.

“Ask for documentation on a process, ask for links to specific queries and advocate why documentation will support an asynchronous environment.”

Vatalidis advised HR to create guidelines on flexibility and asynchronous working to help make the most of hybrid work.

For remote meetings, she said an agenda document asking for everyone’s contributions prior to the call can also help ensure people aren’t left out of decision-making.

She also suggested all team members enter meetings from their own computer rather than having some in the same room and others remote.

“It is way easier to communicate and when everyone shows up in the same way in the call, we can all be on the same level of communication and engagement,” Vatalidis said.

The research on proximity bias was part of a larger survey conducted by Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey) over 15-16 September 2021 with a sample of 2,005 adults aged 18 and over in the UK.