- Research shows that there is good reason to believe that returning to the office post-pandemic will have a mostly negative effect on workers’ mental health.
- Because of this, employers might want to opt for a flexible hybrid option for returning to in-office work.
- When surveyed, 64% of workers predict that a return to the office will have a negative impact on their mental health.
With the pandemic hopefully subsiding, many businesses are requiring their workers to return to the office.
The reason for the return to the office is twofold: (1) managers generally perceive office work as superior to optimizing performance and oversight; (2) some, like Mayor Eric Adams in New York City, do not consider remote work as “real work.”
Whether or not these two reasons are valid – which they’re likely no t– returning to the office is not something many workers are happy about. Yet, in many cases, their jobs are on the line if they refuse to.
Research shows that there is good reason to believe that returning to the office post-pandemic will have a mostly negative effect on workers’ mental health. In light of this, it might be prudent for employers to opt for a flexible hybrid option for returning to in-office work.
Why do employers want workers back in the office?
A general return to normalcy is underway in America as COVID caseloads have significantly declined over the past two months. Part of this return to normalcy will entail the large-scale return to office work.
Part of this is a general enthusiasm about being more socially engaged after a time of long-term social isolation. However, at least one major reason why employers want their workers back in the office is that they believe such a work setting to be superior to remote work.
For instance, last year JP Morgan & Chase CEO Jamie Dimon stated that the spontaneous generation of high-quality ideas doesn’t happen remotely.
Likewise, Washingtonian Media CEO Cathy Merrill outright threatened her remote workers with demotions, citing the importance of “office culture” as justification.
Despite the fact that this belief is empirically unfounded – or, at worst, highly contestable – many managers have outright sidestepped the near omnipresent reporting on the data correlating remote work with neutral or improved markers of employee productivity.
In many ways, therefore, the reasons why employers want to return to the office are erroneous, and this has not gone unnoticed by workers.
Research suggests that worker mental health may worsen upon returning to the office
Workers who began remote work during the pandemic, for the most part, thought of it as a pleasant – indeed, preferable – experience in comparison to in-office work. Not only did it make them more productive, but it contributed to improving their overall sense of well-being.
Hence, employees do not want their remote work experiences to end. More and more, however, employers are giving employees difficult ultimatums: either return to the office or find a new job.
For example, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman told his employees back in June to not expect to get a New York City salary if they continue to work remotely.
“If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York. None of this ‘I’m in Colorado…and getting paid like I’m sitting in New York City.’ Sorry. That doesn’t work.”
In light of this, how might employees feel about having to return to the office? That is, what kind of apprehension do workers have in light of such threats and ultimatums on the part of employers about in-office work?
72% of workers are already unsatisfied with their company’s flexibility standards, so employers cannot expect deadlines for returning to the office to make their employees any happier – and the odds are that it won’t.
According to the Korn Ferry Institute, workers are profoundly apprehensive about returning to the office. When surveyed, 64% of workers predict that a return to the office will have a negative impact on their mental health.
Furthermore, “employees, by a 74% to 26% margin, also believe that it will be harder to go back into the office than it was having to work at home at the start of the pandemic.”
Some percentage of workers, of course, do not feel this way. Being around coworkers, having a commute, and not working from home are appealing to some workers. What’s problematic about calls to return to the office is that most workers do not feel this way.
Thus, in large part, corporate America is experiencing a profound rift in relations between employees and employers. Employers for the most part want to return to the office with little concessions, and employees want flexible options.
Currently, this is being called the “executive-employee disconnect.” Relatedly, according to research done by The Future Forum, when surveyed, 44% of executives say they feel like returning to the office daily, whereas only 17% of workers feel this way.
It is unclear how the executive-employee disconnect will be resolved. Some companies, like Chase, are making concessions on returns to the office by offering flexible deadlines. However, many companies are strictly making no concessions, and many workers are calling their bluffs.
Thus, it’s fair to say that on the one hand, this disconnect will persist indefinitely, and on the other, that the Great Resignation may begin to amplify.
Given the fact that research on markers of productivity and well-being for remote workers is either equal or better than that of in-office work, it may be prudent for employers to become more flexible towards their workers – perhaps offering a hybrid option as a middle-way.