Understanding Return to Office Resistance
Employees Don’t Want to Return to the Office – So What Now?
Covid-19 was an unprecedented health and economic crisis, the real impact of which we may not fully witness for years to come. This said, as the pandemic clouds lift, the percentage of workers who are quitting has shocked many businesses.
Employees don’t want to return to the office. In fact, a survey conducted by the ADP Research Institute found that almost two-thirds (64%) of workers would rather quit their jobs instead of return to the office.
The so-called Great Resignation, with such a large percentage of Americans leaving employers, is affecting our economic recovery.
But the pandemic itself is not the root cause of a dissatisfied workforce. Sure, it served to concentrate the hearts and minds of workers, but commuting to the office for nine-to-five was never the best way for working for many people. It could be argued that people accepted the daily routine because it was ‘normal’ ─ everyone did it.
Now, there is a new normal, which people have experienced for almost two years. After such a period of working from home, mindsets have changed. Previously, workers craved job security while weathering the economic rollercoaster. Now they have become used to remote work and its benefits – and employers are finding they cannot force employees to return to the office.
The wave of resignations marks a sharp turn from the darkest days of lockdowns. We are no longer weathering a national health and economic crisis. People are fighting to retain the flexibility and work/life balance that they have experienced during the pandemic.
Forcing people to return to the office full-time is causing friction. The result is workers leaving jobs, and a dent in productivity and market competitiveness.
The wave of resignations may be the defining moment that depicts the shift to the new normal.
The question is, what does this mean for you as an employer?
Forget going back to the office ─ people are quitting instead
The first step to resolving a problem is to understand it. Many employees returning to the office are disappointed.
The office is no longer a place where people want to spend their time. It has become a place of stress, anxiety, and frustration. The following are the main reasons why employees don’t want to return to the office:
- Increased productivity at home
- Better time management
- Money savings
- Higher autonomy and trust
- Health and safety concerns
People have discovered that remote work boosts their productivity. They can complete their tasks when they are most energetic and enthusiastic to do so, and they don’t suffer the same distractions that are prevalent at work.
People are not constrained by a set schedule and can take care of their personal needs without having to worry about time. They also don’t ‘waste time’ commuting. Working from home also gives people the opportunity to work on more than one project at a time.
No commute. No expensive coffees. No costly sandwiches. Add it all up, and the money that can be saved by working from home can be substantial.
People feel more trusted when working from home. They can work on their own time, in their own way, to their own schedule, and still produce quality work ─ without their boss looking over their shoulder.
When working from home and avoiding the daily commute, it becomes more convenient to work effectively. A worker can be out of bed and into work within minutes. Being at home, a family emergency is more easily dealt with, and the return to work is faster.
While it is a common misconception that working from home means you can do whatever you want, it does present the opportunity to create a more flexible schedule and to work in a more relaxed environment. Many people find it easier to work when they have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to complete the tasks required of them.
This makes it easier to fit work around home life, and hobbies and interests, rather than to squeeze in outside interests around the previous norm of commuting and office work.
Working from home reduces health and safety concerns. Workers are not exposed to workplace hazards, and nor will they encounter potential carriers of coronavirus. People who work from home also have greater opportunity to exercise and are more likely to eat more healthily.
The battle for talent during the ‘Great Resistance’
Instead of discussing the Great Resignation, employers should consider the phenomenon differently. We call it the ‘Great Resistance’ ─ a reticence to return to the office because of all the reasons we have mentioned above. This has developed into the Great Resignation because organisations have been insistent on their people coming back to the workplace.
Consequently, employers have experienced a wave of resignations. They are now desperate to hire talent to replace that which they have lost.
To combat this, employers have begun to seek ways in which to attract talent, putting in place strategies that may have helped them to retain the talent they have lost. For example, some organisations are offering flexible working rosters and hybrid working patterns. Others are offering four-day work weeks (for example, 80% of the time for 100% of the pay for 100% of previous output). Some countries, such as Sweden, NZ, the UK, and some EU states are trialing four-day work weeks, too.
The conclusion is that employers must be more flexible and adaptable to the needs of candidates in the new normal.
How to approach the Great Resistance
As organisations seek to boost their workforces and market competitiveness by hiring talent, it’s crucial that they take a measured and strategic approach to recruitment and retention. Here are four tips for those organisations that are challenged in the current environment:
Tip #1: Understand your people’s preferences
- How are they feeling?
- How can you help them be more comfortable?
- What are your employees’ specific objections to returning to the office?
Tip #2: Reflect on what the office is really for
- What are you asking your employees to come back in for?
- What is the role of the office in the work that your employees do?
Tip #3: Evaluate your own and others’ biases
- Is going back to the office necessary, or is it just the way you are used to managing?
Tip #4: Remember there is no one-size-fits-all for flexible working
- Whatever modality you choose, there may still be employees that need additional support.
- For example, even if you decide that certain meetings need to be in person, you should still make provision for anyone who can’t attend.
- Make inclusivity a priority, and think beyond technology to find solutions.
Here’s a challenge for you. Fast-forward five years... what will have happened for you to be able to look back and see the current challenges as the greatest gift?
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