New research has revealed concerns over the treatment of staff in the world of hybrid work. The Mind the Gap report from Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety specialist WorkNest, which is based on a survey of over 490 employers and 1,000 employees, found that only around half (52%) of employers are confident that office-based and home-based employees will be treated evenly and fairly in the next 12 months.

Compounding the issue, employees are even more doubtful about their employer’s ability to be even and fair. Only 40% are confident that their employer will be.

One of the greatest areas of concern is development and progression opportunities. With workforces divided between home and office locations, just 44% of business decision makers surveyed said they are confident their employees will be treated evenly and fairly when it comes to progression and promotion prospects.

However, the greatest employer-employee gap concerns expectations around pay and reward. While 54% of employers are confident this will be fair and even, only 40% of employees agree.

James Tamm, Director of Legal Services at WorkNest LAW, commented: “These findings sound an alarm bell. Given the growing popularity of hybrid work, employers must have policies and manager training in place to ensure staff receive the same support and opportunities as their office-based colleagues and mitigate the risk of unfair treatment of workers.

“Failing to do so is likely to spark grievances, which could quickly escalate, leading to time-related costs, reputational damage and – in worst-case scenarios – even expensive Tribunal claims. Businesses mustn’t duck the issue.”

The research also revealed that 17% of employees think where they work will impact their training and development opportunities. Yet only 9% of employers share this concern, and 45% are intending to increase their learning and development spend.

On a more positive note, nearly two-thirds (63%) of businesses say they are actively working on providing opportunities for career progression. However, just 50% of employees report that their business is managing this – highlighting a lack of communication. This is particularly worrying as 10% of employees say that learning and development is what matters most to them in respect to their overall happiness at work.

Donna Gibb, Head of Client Services at WorkNest HR, said: “If people don’t think they are being treated fairly or given equal opportunity – for example, their homeworking request has been denied or they feel they are being left behind as a result of remote working – it could result in a drain of talent.

“Employers who not only embrace flexibility but put measures in place to ensure employees feel just as included wherever they work stand to have an advantage. This can be as simple as ensuring all employees are informed of job and training opportunities and that, if you are organising a meeting in the office, home-based colleagues are invited to attend either in person or via online tools such as Zoom or Teams.”

In fact, when employees were asked what might prompt them to consider taking legal action against their employer, a lack of communication emerged as the most likely cause, followed by a lack of consistency, fairness and equality. With this in mind, businesses should ensure that homeworkers and office-based employees have equal opportunities, that they are treated evenly in all areas, and that both remain engaged, involved and informed – or the consequences may be costly.

Asked what they think the biggest challenges facing their employer will be post-pandemic, employees’ top answer was the ability to keep all staff happy and managing different needs and personalities. Employers said it is ensuring that those working from home feel included and involved.