According to Forbes, 2023 seems to be the year of the RTO (return-to-office) mandate. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic opened up a whole new world of remote working that today’s talent has become used to, and seen many benefits in. Of course, remote work isn’t suitable for all jobs or industries. But when we consider the industries for which working from home is a viable option, remote or hybrid working has given many workers greater flexibility and better work/life balance.
After the world began to ‘open’ back up, many businesses adopted a hybrid working arrangement, which often provides the best of both worlds – in-person collaboration at an office, and focus time at home – with the flexibility to choose where you are most productive on a given day. But according to our Talent Index Seventh Edition research, more and more organizations are bringing their talent back to the office full time in 2023 – and it’s not always welcomed by employees.
Employers who mandate that employees come into the office five days a week are likely hoping to either increase productivity, or foster greater collaboration. If your organization is considering an RTO mandate (or already has one in place), we want to challenge you to give that a second thought.
By doing away with flexible working, you might actually decrease productivity – and you risk losing your top talent.
Return-to-office mandates are becoming more common
In our latest Talent Index survey, 42% of our respondents said they are already required to work in the office five days per week. A further 16% said they are mandated to work in the office on specified days each week, and an additional 16% said they are required to come into the office a certain number of days each week, but they are able to choose which days.
Only 9% said they are currently free to work wherever they please.
Interestingly, those in the US are most likely to be required to work in the office five days a week (50%), compared to the UK and Nordics (37% each).
Results also varied by job level. Those who are in entry-level positions are much more likely to have to come to the office Monday-Friday (54%) compared to those at the Director/Senior Manager level (only 34%).
Overall, flexible working seems to be on the decline. Employers need to think about how the lack of flexibility could affect their employees (and their business) long-term.
Hybrid employees feel pressured to be in the office more often
36% of our total survey respondents said that, while they are not required to be in the office full time, they are feeling pressure from their employer to come into the office more days each week (or more often in general).
When you look at the data by age group, it becomes clear that younger workers seem to feel this pressure more than older (perhaps more experienced or tenured) employees. Hybrid workers who are either Generation Z or millennials are the most likely to feel this pressure. Of those between the ages of 18-24, 45% said they felt pressure to be in the office more often, and for those aged between 25-34, 44% felt pressure to be in the office more often.
Multiple studies show that hybrid work models have a positive effect on employee wellbeing and productivity. A study from Microsoft reveals a phenomenon in the world of work today called “productivity paranoia” – which means that there is a disconnect between how productive hybrid employees actually are vs. how productive (or unproductive) their employers think they are. In this particular study, 87% of workers said they are productive at work, yet only 12% of leaders had confidence that this was the case.
That begs the question: are employers really listening to their employees? And are they creating an environment that allows employees to thrive and do their best work?
Companies that don’t offer flexibility risk losing talent
It’s obvious that being in the office five days a week isn’t going to be ideal for everyone. Our Talent Index survey revealed how important flexibility is for today’s workers. Over a quarter (26%) of our total respondents cited flexible working arrangements as one of the most important benefits they look for in an employer.
We also learned from this survey that, despite the looming recession, 51% of workers are at least considering leaving their jobs in the next 12 months (up from 50% in our previous survey). And 17% of that group said their reason for wanting to leave is the lack of flexibility or the requirement to work a hard 9-to-5 schedule.
Employers must seriously consider if having workers in the office every day is worth the risk of losing talent who value hybrid or remote working options. If you want to keep your talent engaged, it’s important to understand the benefits they need in order to do their best work.
It’s important to also consider the employees who prefer to work in the office. Think about the kinds of working environments that these employees need to thrive. Perhaps some of your office-based workers need dedicated collaborative spaces or focused work areas to perform at their best.
Keep your talent engaged with flexible working
We asked our Talent Index respondents what positive changes they see their organization making in the coming year. 26% thought a positive future benefit would be keeping (or even starting) flexible working.
With flexible working being such an important part of job satisfaction (and employee wellbeing), consider how either starting or continuing a flexible work policy could not only help you retain your top employees, but also keep them motivated and productive.
There’s also a diversity and inclusion angle to consider when thinking about engaging talent through flexible working. It’s important to evaluate if your company is attracting and retaining more diverse talent through your flexible working practices. Do you know what could happen if you take them away?
And, in the world of work, there is a tendency for high profile opportunities to go to those who are more visible in an office setting. What does that mean for diversity in the talent pipeline or for leadership and management positions? And how are you ensuring that remote and hybrid employees are being considered for new opportunities and promotions as well?
Flexible working can be a cost-effective way to keep talent engaged, which is vital in today’s economy. Many employers simply don’t have the budget to offer pay raises or cash bonuses. Of course, everyone would appreciate a salary increase, but during an economic downturn, internal mobility, learning and development opportunities, and flexible working programs can go a long way.
Hybrid work is just one way to engage and retain talent. While our Talent Index survey respondents felt strongly about the importance of flexibility in the workplace, they had a lot to say about other topics like transparency, the job market, management and leadership, and more.