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Three factors behind return-to-work resistance

A recent Bloomberg article discusses challenges with return to office mandates starting with differing opinions among leadership especially with variations across teams, functions, and what different roles require.

Balance has yet to be found among return-to-work policies, with discussions coming ahead of topics like layoffs, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the adoption of AI. Leaders are placing value on in-office work but are being met with resistance by their teams.

The employee/employer disconnect

Many firms are ramping up their return to office mandates, with some even tying performance reviews to time spent in the workplace. Companies like Walt Disney, JPMorgan, and Google have been vocal about the benefits of on-site work and their expectations for employees and office attendance. In our Global Workplace Insights report, Returning for Good, 84% of employers indicated their employees’ career prospects would be limited if they didn’t come in the office. 

Workers are pushing back and leaving companies voluntarily to pursue other opportunities, which may be attributed to dissatisfaction with return to office policies. Data from our survey showed 42% of employers with office mandates are experiencing increased employee attrition. 

Despite these policies, leaders aren’t seeing attendance upticks. Attendance across ten big US cities is at 50% of pre-pandemic levels, and no higher than early 2023. 51% of employees surveyed in our report indicated they were reluctant to return to the workplace.

Three factors for in-office resistance

  1. Lack of training and communication. Only one-third of companies have trained their managers to address the challenges workers face when coming into the office more often, such as little focus space or inefficient technology. 51% employees report their top office “want” is strong internet access, followed by a good tech set up (40%). 
  2. Lack of flexibility and balance. Offices aren’t set up to support all staff (even leaders). Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said the office “doesn’t work with my personality.” 83% of employers believe their office enables productivity, but 58% of employees say they struggle to complete tasks in the workplace.
  3. Higher stress and burnout. Employees are experiencing stress and burnout, but few companies address this issue unless a problem emerges. 53% of employees say their workplace doesn’t provide wellbeing areas, including prayer rooms, lactation spaces, and digital free zones.

The future of the office

To increase employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention, companies need to create workplaces people want to come into rather than have to come into. Through thoughtful RTO policies and better workplace experiences, companies have better chances of improving employee attendance and culture. For more return-to-work insights, download Returning for Good here.

About Returning for Good: In our recent Unispace Global Workplace Insights report, Returning for Good, we surveyed over 16,000 leaders and employees across 17 markets to learn more about what employees want and need in the workplace and how employers can create purposeful workplaces tailored to their people.