You want employees to come back to the office. They don’t want to. Why?
The problem may be you.
Many employers still don’t make the office a place people want to be. So when more and more companies called for a return to work on Labor Day, more and more employees resisted.
Almost two-thirds of employees said they’d consider looking for a new job if the boss required them to return to the office full time, according to ADP’s People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View. And it almost seems employees are winning the battle of wills: The daily occupancy rate in offices stood below 45% after the first week of September, according to an analysis by Kastle.
But if leaders demand employees show up, they’ll likely arrive resentful and disengaged, and possibly start Quiet Quitting. If employees stay home, company culture, engagement and collaboration potentially suffer.
The fix: Don’t force employees. Do things that make employees want to come back to the office.
“Employees’ views of work changed, now prioritizing a wider and deeper range of factors that are more personal in nature. These revelations offer both a challenge and an opportunity for employers as they seek to keep workers engaged and fulfilled,” says Nela Richardson, chief economist at ADP. “The pandemic signaled a paradigm shift as today’s workers re-evaluate the presence of work in their lives, and the stakes have never been higher for employers.”
Some of the reasons employees don’t want to come back to the office have changed since we first reported on the emerging issue. Some have remained the same.
So it’s important to understand why employees don’t want to return now – and then take steps to remove those obstacles.
They won’t feel ‘safe’ if they come back to the office
Employees who work remotely or in a hybrid situation feel more psychologically safe than employees who work on-site full time, according to meQuilibrium’s 2022 Self-Check Study.
Where are the issues? Researchers found on-site employees are less likely to feel:
- at ease discussing difficult topics
- safe taking risks, and
- as if their team respects and values each other.
From a Zoom camera, behind a keyboard or over the phone, employees feel safer to do those three things.
“As employers continue to consider how best to structure the workplace, leaders will need to address this very real gap in psychological safety across work settings in order to ensure that innovation, creativity and change-readiness is not compromised in the return to on-site work,” says Brad Smith, PhD, Chief Science Officer at meQuilibrium.
You want to help employees regain that feeling of psychological safety in the office before innovation and engagement suffer. Researchers found the safest teams have employees who:
- feel connected to their boss
- agree on shared goals, and
- set the rules for how they operate and will be appraised.
So as employees move back on-site, you’ll want to move authority and autonomy to front-line managers and their teams.
They feel more productive at home
Almost 65% of employees claim they’re more productive at home, according to an Ipsos survey. So why mess with a good thing? Because research compiled by The World Economic Forum finds work from home is still not as productive as work on-site.
Productivity perception is not the same as the workplace reality.
But don’t think you can convince employees to come back to work by telling them they’ll get more done! Instead, reward them for getting more done in the office.
Several companies now encourage employees to get everything done on-site – and leave when it’s done. That way, if employees are more productive when they come back to the office, they’ll enjoy more time not actually working at home.
They want flexibility
It’s the buzzword that employers are starting to hate: flexibility. But if you offer it, you will likely get employees to want to come back to the office.
And if you need proof that it can work, here’s a real-world example: UWM, a Michigan mortgage lender, offered employees the choice of four 10-hour work days or the typical five-day schedule. They also told managers to be flexible with employees when they needed to leave to attend to personal matters.
The CEO, Mat Ishbia, did this a year ago, and has no regrets today.
Why? Since people work together, they make decisions, resolve problems, plan and adjust quicker. So people stay on track and business has improved since he brought them back on-site.
Talk with employees about the level of flexibility they’d like to make coming back to the office worth it. Then explain the business needs and work together on an agreeable solution.
They’re burned out
This reason for staying home may actually work to employers’ advantage. Many employees are burned out because at home they:
- are lonely and isolated
- struggle to find a work/life balance, and
- miss personal connections.
Working in an office with people and connecting on a daily basis can help remedy some of those issues. Of course, you’ll want to point employees toward your mental well-being benefits and resources if they’re overwhelmed by stress and burnout.
Otherwise, make work fun again.
- Bring back catered lunches. Almost 40% of employees say they’d want to go back to the office if the company supplied meals, a DoorDash survey found. It’s not just about free food. The meal provides an opportunity for employees to socialize and have work conversations.
- Plan social and training events. More than 40% of companies are already planning social events such as happy hours and movie nights, and all-hands-on events for training again, an Envoy survey found.
- Update the office. About 40% of offices plan to revamp their environments with music, new social spaces and gaming opportunities in the office.