Return to office reluctance? Strategies to ease employee resistance
In August 2023, ResumeBuilder.com surveyed 1,000 office workers aged 25 and older, mostly engaged in wage-based employment with an annual household income of at least $75,000, employed by companies with 11 or more staff members. This survey offered critical insights into the hotly debated subject of returning to work (RTO).
The findings revealed a significant trend, with 90% of decision-makers in these companies expressing their intentions to reintegrate employees into physical office spaces by 2024. However, even among companies that have already initiated the return to the office (RTO), a substantial 83% currently monitor employee attendance, and an additional 70% of those planning a 2024 RTO intend to adopt attendance tracking measures.
Surprisingly, approximately 72% of the surveyed companies that have completed their RTO reported experiencing enhancements in various aspects, including revenue, productivity, and employee retention. But it’s noteworthy that while 71% of companies mandating in-office work require at least three-quarters of their employees to be on-site, only 44% of companies planning a 2024 RTO will enforce such a requirement, and only 19% intend to mandate a five-day workweek.
To entice employees to return to the office, businesses are employing diverse incentive strategies, including commuter benefits (72%), childcare provisions (57%), and catered meals (64%). However, 28% of companies consider employment termination a potential consequence of non-compliance with the RTO policy.
These findings provoke a compelling question: Why has the return to work, a long-standing and rarely questioned work policy, become so contentious in contemporary discourse? Is it primarily a reaction to the lingering presence of COVID-19, or could it signify employees subtly voicing unaddressed concerns that have persisted over an extended period, prompting a profound reexamination of prevailing workplace dynamics and long-standing expectations?
What if the return to the office isn’t merely a binary choice between in-office or remote work? Instead, it presents an opportunity for employers to reimagine the work landscape, addressing their workforce’s concerns and creating an environment where employees can thrive while contributing to organizational success.
Deciphering employee resistance to the return to the office: Strategies for employers
The prospect of returning to the office has triggered widespread apprehension among the global workforce, and the reasons are multifaceted. Let’s study the underlying factors behind workers’ reluctance to embrace a return to the office and propose concrete measures that employers can adopt to address these concerns effectively.
The commute conundrum…and yes, it’s about the money!
Amidst the ongoing discourse surrounding the return to the office, a prominent concern has emerged — the substantial shift in the commuting landscape. In the aftermath of the pandemic, a noticeable surge in the financial and temporal costs associated with commuting has become apparent. This phenomenon extends beyond geographical boundaries, as demonstrated by the global rise in transport expenses.
For instance, London, a city reliant on public transport, bus fares, and the London Underground, has experienced their most significant increase in a decade, a response to pandemic-induced financial losses. In the United States, where most commuters (over 80%) rely on personal vehicles, the escalating gasoline prices discourage individuals from taking to the roads. A year ago, the average US petrol cost stood at $2.87 per gallon; today, they have surged by 50% to $4.10 per gallon.
Moreover, a more comprehensive examination of the broader financial repercussions becomes imperative. While remote work initially appeared to promise financial relief through reduced commuting expenditures, it does not necessarily guarantee substantial overall savings. This paradox becomes evident when considering other escalating expenses, such as monthly utility bills, encompassing electricity and gas.
In the heart of the United Kingdom, an ordinary citizen must part with 53.37 pence daily to keep the lights on and 29.62 pence to warm their home with gas, all before adding the weighty VAT (value added tax). For an average dual-fuel consumer who opts for the convenience of Direct Debit payments, this translates into a staggering annual increase of £300 on the combined electricity and gas bills — a shocking 60 percent surge over just two short years for the dual-fuel package and an even more astounding 113 percent hike for electricity alone. These intertwined factors provoke a profound question: Can employers strike a harmonious financial balance amidst this ever-evolving fiscal landscape?
In response to employee resistance and to enhance the allure of the return-to-office paradigm, proactive measures on the part of employers are of paramount importance. A pivotal strategy involves the provision of competitive salary packages and comprehensive benefits. Keenly aware of the perceived financial constraints linked to returning to the office, employers can offset these concerns by offering compensation packages that meet and exceed industry standards.
Additionally, incorporating comprehensive benefits, encompassing healthcare, childcare support, and wellness initiatives, can significantly augment employee contentment and facilitate a seamless reintegration into the office environment. Furthermore, adopting flexible work arrangements, which strike a harmonious balance between in-office and remote work, represents a progressive approach. This strategy enables employees to retain some advantages garnered during the remote work era while nurturing a sense of belonging and engagement.
Cracking the productivity puzzle
In an era where the comforts of home compete for attention, it would seem reasonable to expect a decline in productivity among remote workers. However, the paradoxical reality is quite different. Remote workers are not only maintaining but often increasing their work hours while benefiting from an improved work-life balance and reduced stress levels.
Remarkably, data from Ergotron’s study indicates that 40% of employees are clocking longer hours at home than their office-based counterparts. Further corroborating this trend, the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals that these extended workdays amount to 48.5 extra minutes. This seemingly modest time increment for full-time employees can accumulate over 193 additional working hours annually.
Yet, a paradox arises as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a nearly 3 percent decline in worker productivity during the first quarter of 2023, marking the sharpest drop in 75 years. While remote work is often scrutinized as a potential culprit, it may not be the sole driving force behind this decline.
Examining the underlying causes of diminished productivity yields a spectrum of factors, each presenting unique challenges and opportunities for employers to intervene effectively. These factors include:
Lack of employee training. Did you know 74% of employees feel less motivated about returning to the office? One significant reason behind this hesitation is the lack of development programs. Employers, it’s time to take action! Invest in tailored training initiatives that reignite the spark in your team. Imagine the impact of regular training sessions, immersive workshops, and easy access to valuable resources. These tools empower your employees with the skills and knowledge they need to excel in their roles and feel motivated to step back into the office. But it doesn’t stop there — offering ongoing learning opportunities isn’t just a perk; it’s the key to rekindling their enthusiasm and driving a culture of continuous improvement.
Workplace stress. “Depression and anxiety cost the global economy approximately $1 trillion in lost productivity. An estimated 1 million workers are absent every day because of stress.” — The American Institue of Stress
Employers, let’s show some care for your returning-to-work heroes! Organizations must recognize the signs of stress among employees and proactively promote mental health and well-being. Initiatives such as stress management workshops, counseling services, flexible work arrangements, and clear communication about expectations can help mitigate workplace stress.
Too many tasks. Employers should implement effective workload and skills management strategies. This may involve assigning tasks based on employees’ strengths and skill sets, setting realistic deadlines, and encouraging employees to communicate when they feel overwhelmed. It’s crucial to strike a balance between productivity and well-being.
Toxic work culture. Cultivating a positive and inclusive work culture is paramount. Employers should lead by example, promoting respect, open communication, and teamwork. Addressing toxic behaviors promptly and transparently and creating a safe environment for reporting issues is crucial for maintaining a healthy workplace culture.
Lack of the big picture. Employers should ensure employees understand how their roles contribute to organizational goals. Introducing career pathing platforms like smartPeople can benefit your organization and enable your employees to explore new opportunities and apply for roles that align with their aspirations. It ensures the return to the office is marked not only by physical presence but by a genuine commitment to the well-being and growth of the workforce.
The office dilemma
When examining why employees are reluctant to return to the office, several significant factors come to the fore. However, taking a closer look reveals a more intricate web of concerns.
For instance, it’s well-documented that a substantial portion of office workers typically spend anywhere from $3 to $10 on lunch daily, as per a QuickBooks survey. This expenditure could translate to a hefty weekly cost of $50 for those who dine out daily. Interestingly, Cisco’s insights indicate that hybrid workers have found financial relief in multiple aspects, primarily in commuting expenses, food, and social events. A remarkable 75% reported spending less on food and entertainment, with 60% noting savings on after-work social activities. Furthermore, an intriguing statistic emerges, where 42% of employees express that a formal dress code could catalyze job hunting.
Additionally, insights from “The Home Office Life” survey highlight the following aspects:
- 34% of respondents find that working from home enables them to better attend to family members, pets, or the needs of aging or unwell relatives.
- 33% revel in the financial savings facilitated by remote work.
- 32% experience reduced anxiety and stress levels.
- 25% cite an improvement in overall health, encompassing mental, physical, or spiritual well-being.
- 19% underscore the reduced prevalence of office politics as a significant benefit of working from home.
In light of these compelling reasons, it becomes evident why many employees hesitate to return to the office. Outdated dress codes no longer align with the contemporary work environment, emphasizing the need for a shift toward comfort and flexibility over traditional suits. Rigidity in work schedules must give way to a more adaptive approach, permitting employees to determine their arrival and departure times to regain control over their daily routines.
Furthermore, it’s imperative to alleviate the burden of repressive performance metrics, fostering a corporate culture that encourages spontaneity and creativity. The era of command-and-control management is waning, paving the way for trust-based leadership principles. Providing employees autonomy in choosing their work environment is paramount, with micromanagement giving way to trust as the driving force behind productivity.
The return-to-work balancing act: Don’t end up with regrets
A startling 80% of bosses wish they could turn back time on their initial return-to-office decisions. They admit they’d do things differently if they had a clearer picture of employees’ office attendance patterns and their use of office amenities. It’s like the plot of a regretful time-travel movie! But fear not, there’s a solution to avoid this workplace déjà vu: scenario planning.
Enter smartPlan, your strategic workforce planning sidekick! Here’s how it rescues you from office plan blunders:
Aligning business strategy. smartPlan syncs business strategy with workforce needs. It predicts future workforce demands, factoring in growth projections and market trends—essential for crafting return-to-work strategies.
Optimal workforce structure. It helps strike the perfect balance between workforce demand and supply. Know how many employees you need, their skill sets, and whether they should work remotely or in-office.
Skills and gap analysis. Identify and prioritize skills and workforce gaps. Perfect for assessing if your existing workforce fits the new work landscape.
Holistic workforce planning. smartPlan offers a 360-degree view of workforce planning. It integrates labor market data, giving insights into current and future job trends and skill requirements.
Simulation and modeling. Simulate various workforce scenarios, even the wild ones. Perfect for scenario planning and exploring different return-to-work strategies.
Data-driven decisions. Make decisions backed by data. Incorporate market data to assess how external factors might impact your return-to-work plans.
Incorporate smartPlan into your scenario planning, and you’ll avoid return-to-work mishaps. It equips you with the insights to navigate post-pandemic workforce complexities, ensuring your return-to-office strategies align with your organization’s goals and adapt to shifting market dynamics. Ready to make your return-to-office plan a blockbuster? Book a demo to learn more!