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What is proximity bias, and is it holding young remote workers back in their jobs?

Proximity bias happens when managers subconsciously show favouritism towards workers in close physical proximity to them.

By Jennifer McShane

For workers starting out, a job with a hybrid model may sound very appealing. There’s more flexibility over schedules, less time spent on public transport (always a plus) and you still get in-person interaction with colleagues.

But some might be surprised to find out young workers aren’t enthusiastic about this across the board and it’s primarily due to proximity bias.

Proximity bias happens when those in senior leadership roles subconsciously show favouritism towards workers in close physical proximity to them (i.e, those working from the office that they see every day) over those working remotely.

It stems back to the false notion that people who work from the office are more productive and committed than those who are remote.

Research by Envoy found an overwhelming majority of UK business leaders (a stark 94 per cent) take more notice of their employees’ work contributions when they are in the office versus when they work from home.

This is likely one of the reasons younger workers are more reluctant to take on fully remote or hybrid roles, with only 41 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds saying work-life balance was a priority in this sense, according to a poll by United Culture.

How are younger workers being impacted?

If you’re in your first job, it’s natural to want to make a good impression. And unfortunately, some of the potential consequences of working for a manager with proximity bias can include being left out of decisions or overlooked for raises or promotions.

A 2021 UK study found that a third (34 per cent) of 18 to 24 year olds are concerned that working remotely will mean they miss out on progression opportunities. Other concerns include having less visibility and fewer opportunities to work on desirable projects, and being less likely to be invited to social events. Not ideal if you’re trying to make your mark.

With promotion and advancement being a key concern for younger workers, feedback from more experienced colleagues is essential.

According to another study, employees under 30 said they generally received more feedback from experienced co-workers if they were all in the same building. The research revealed a gap between how often at-home workers get feedback compared to those who are only a few desks apart from each other.

This matters because such invaluable conversations at the early stages of a young worker's career could be the reason they progress quicker in the company.

The same study also found young workers and women were substantially more likely to quit once they saw a decrease in this feedback because, again, they felt it was difficult for remote and hybrid workers to get ahead in their careers without it.

How workers can manage proximity bias

With research clearly indicating the impact remote work has on the budding careers of young employees, it’s important to avoid falling victim to proximity bias.

To mitigate this, set out clear progression markers in your role. Have key conversations around progression as you approach yearly reviews.

It’s important to remember that you haven’t created this bias and it’s up to the senior leaders to ensure it doesn’t happen. By openly addressing it, your manager should be taking steps to make sure you don’t miss any of the opportunities your in-office co-workers have.

It’s a good idea to link in with your team and ensure your schedule is mirroring theirs so you’re all in the office on the same days (if hybrid) or that everyone is attending all the major meetings remotely.

Get involved in company activities. Is your team looking for someone to helm the after-work social club (you can do all the organising remotely)? Do they need a co-chair for any staff networks?

Being visible is more than just progression opportunities, it’s about connecting with co-workers. Set up virtual coffees, maybe arrange to go into the office for the next team-building day, and don’t be afraid to join discussions in meetings – you can always make a memorable impression over Zoom.

With this food for thought, if you’re thinking about beginning your career or looking for your next step – in a hybrid role or otherwise – below are three open roles to get started. And you can browse many more on the Euronews Jobs Board.

Engineering Support Associate, Multiverse

As an Engineering Support Associate, you will be joining the product support team in London, who provide a central service function to the rest of the business for issues related to products. Your main focus will be on resolving issues that come through the ticketing system, however you will also have the opportunity to have an impact in the continuous improvement of the team.

Apply for this job now.

Security System Engineer, Zalando

As a Security Engineer within the Berlin-based Security Operations Engineering team at Zalando, you'll be managing products, services, and systems to protect the company's core assets and customers from security incidents, data leaks and data breaches. You will be responsible for building automation into processes and improving upon current automation workflows within the Security Operations Engineering team.

Interested? The full job spec can be found here.

Lead Developer, Accenture

As a Lead Developer in Salesforce.com, specialised in at least one Salesforce Cloud (for example Sales or Service Cloud), you will provide high-quality solutions to your team and the client. You are well-informed about the technology of the Salesforce platform and will act as an expert in the field of configuration and customised solutions for the delivery of Salesforce projects for enterprise customers.

Get full information on this Amsterdam-based role here.

Browse even more open opportunities across every industry over on the Euronews Jobs board now

Posted on 19 Jul 2023 11:40 link