- Many workers are being mandated to return to the office after long periods of working from home — in the midst of the Great Resignation.
- Adjusting to WFH was a challenge for many employees; however, many found they started to find more work/life balance and enjoyed no longer having to commute.
- Companies can make their mandated return to the office more successful by using a phased approach, implementing flexible work schedules, providing more wellness programs, and change management resources.
While the largest civilian employer in the United States is nudging its non-retail associate employees back to Walmart corporate offices this month (as long as they are vaccinated), many other workers are steadying themselves for a company-mandated return-to-the-office.
Apparently, a significant number of workers are just quitting instead.
The debate continues on whether remote work is more or less productive than work performed in a traditional office setting — with media and industry “experts” publishing conflicting claims weekly regarding the efficacy of in-office work versus remote and hybrid work.
Regardless, many companies are requiring their employees to return to the office this quarter or early next year. With the Great Resignation gaining steam and the number of job openings increasing, the challenge for businesses will be to retain talent.
A tale of two work realities
This debate may appear rather superfluous to the many essential and other workers who have no choice but to make a living in the “real world.” Bus drivers, police officers, public school teachers, and brick and mortar store owners are just a few examples of the type of businesses the physical world needs to keep civilization running.
Still, the pandemic has forced society to rethink how and where work can be done. Nevertheless, if you have a plumbing problem and your home is flooding with wastewater, you are likely going to need an actual person on the scene to fix the problem NOW.
Despite the obvious need for the essential work of the physical world, much of commerce is taking place in the digital realm. While many knowledge workers can meet and work online, and studies have shown productivity improves with remote and hybrid work, company-mandated returns to the office are commencing all over the world.
And not all workers are happy about that.
Bosses are more pro-office than their employees
Let’s face it.
Bosses, on average, seem to enjoy the office more than employees.
Let us count the ways …
While it’s no surprise that those at the top will make more than the “typical worker,” the staggering disparity in the compensation rates above represents the inequity and greed that may be fueling a lot of worker disillusionment.
Bosses also get to tell workers what to do rather than the other way around.
Actually, many CEOs don’t even have to do that. They get their vice president or chief operating officer or director or assistant to hand out the marching orders.
This is a generalization, of course. Bosses delegate the work to employees instead of doing it.
While CEOs may shoulder much more macro responsibility (and even financial risk), the c-suite enjoys myriad perks that many lower-level workers can only dream about.
Some CEOs have grown fond of the perks that come with working remotely; however, many of the C-suite are itching to get back to the office where they can more closely manage their employees.
Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman summed up his dour view of remote work and the company-mandated return to the office to the Financial Times, “If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come to the office.” Gorman was equally blunt about lowering the pay for remote employees who lived outside of the New York City region. “If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York,” Gorman said.
Google’s Sundar Pichai had a kinder, gentler reason for missing the office:
“I do miss meetings in which you can stand up and go to the whiteboard,” Pichai was quoted in the New York Times, “ and draw what you are thinking and have others look at it.”
Pichai joined Google in 2004 and now serves as chief executive of the tech giant — and its parent company, Alphabet. Google is in a similar imbroglio with its employees regarding the company’s mandated return to the office policies — and location-dependent salary cuts.
An uncomfortable reentry for many workers
For those workers who were sent home to work at the onset of the pandemic, along with many of their children who shifted to virtual school, WFH brought its own set of unique challenges. Nevertheless, they adapted, and many enjoyed the increased autonomy and flexibility. For workers with long commutes, WFH gave them some extra time to devote to non-work activities.
After working at home for months, many decided to start new businesses — or turn their respective side hustles into full-time gigs. Others decided to quit and join the Great Resignation.
According to the Labor Bureau report, resignations (“quits”) increased across several sectors of the economy but decreased in wholesale trade. Moreover, resignations were more significant in the Western United States: “Quits increased in several industries with the largest increases in arts, entertainment, and recreation (+56,000); other services (+47,000); and state and local government education (+30,000). Quits decreased in wholesale trade (-30,000). The number of quits increased in the West region.”
An ‘inflection point’ for workers
Despite the significant attention The Great Resignation and the Anti Work movement is getting, some critics believe this is largely a concern of the privileged. Not everyone can just walk off the job in search of more meaning and purpose, right?
The unemployment spigot and stimulus fountain have begun to run dry for most Americans. The same is true for that little rent extension program that prevented tenants from getting evicted due to lack of payment.
Nevertheless, most experts agree that a systemic shift is occurring — at least in the United States and Europe. With Microsoft declaring that 41 percent of workers are considering leaving their current employer — and 46 percent likely to move on because they can now work remotely … Houston, we really might have a problem.
Or maybe it’s an opportunity?
A hybrid and flexible workplace
The independent Work Trend Index survey sponsored by Microsoft and completed by Edelman Data x Intelligence strongly suggests a more hybrid workplace of the future. To compete for and retain top talent, successful enterprises will need to do more to prevent employee burnout, for starters.
Despite the disheartening retention rates in the Labor Department and Microsoft studies, there is obviously a significant segment of workers that have remained loyal to the organizations that employ them — and hear the call of the company-mandated return-to-the-office loud and clear.
These workers likely value their jobs, and they might even be grateful to work for you. Your company is probably treating them pretty well.
Or — they just don’t have any other viable options at the moment.
After being cooped up in small workspaces they used to call home, some workers are elated to return to a dedicated and collaborative physical office. Many others, as explained above, are not. And they may use this mandated return as additional justification to quit.
Financial incentives to return to physical offices?
Stimulating water cooler conversations and free coffee aside, a lot of workers are demanding more flexibility and a new norm. The pandemic provided an opportunity to envision a life centered around life rather than work.
Additionally, workers need salaries to increase with higher costs of living. The U.S. needs to be able to compete with Western European allies and trading partners in how it treats its workers.
Companies may want to consider paying workers a stipend to return to the physical office. One survey found that 70 percent of workers would be more open to returning to the physical office if paid an incentive to do so. Consider allowing some flex days or optional in-office days. More paid time off and flexible leave policies may also increase retention.
In the current economic climate and increased worker leverage, businesses will need to do more than create an inviting office to house their labor during work hours.
Businesses will need to rethink the role work plays in their employees’ lives — and how to bridge the divide between those at the top and bottom. They will also need to consider an increasingly hybrid and flexible future of work.