Why proximity bias is a top concern for executives

With more business leaders heading back into the office, a growing number of executives worry about the possibility for proximity bias, where employees who spend the most time in the office gain an upper hand, according to a January Future Forum survey.

Future Forum surveyed more than 10,000 workers and managers across the West in November 2021 regarding their opinions on productivity, sense of belonging and preferred ways of working.

An increasing number of executives mentioned their concern for proximity bias, in which inequalities for advancement and opportunity could manifest amongst virtual and in-person workers. In fact, 41 percent of executives cited proximity bias as the top concern, up from 33 percent from the previous quarter. 

Executives are also spending more time in the office, with 71 percent reporting spending three or more days a week in the office in comparison to 63 percent of non-executive employees. This difference is likely to continue to grow, meaning those employees who don't go into the office may miss out on in-person opportunities that can spur career growth and learning.

"Executives are now acknowledging that there has been a shift in the past two years, and they don’t know how to create equity in this new normal," said Ella F. Washington, PhD, an organizational psychologist at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. "This is an opportunity for organizations to reevaluate, refresh, or maybe even start over with some of their management processes, from performance evaluation to diversity and inclusion. A blank slate can be a real opportunity."

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