As RTO Mandates Spike, Hybrid Work Remains Best Option for Employee Loyalty
Workspan Daily
August 22, 2023
Key Takeaways

  • Risky business. Strict return-to-office mandates generally cause ill will and decreased productivity, with many employees and managers indicating they’d leave their role if asked to return five days a week.   
  • Deploy a hybrid approach. Employees prefer hybrid work options over fully remote schedules, allowing businesses to benefit from partial in-office time with employees. 
  • Transition is key. A transition from fully remote to a hybrid setup should be undertaken gradually. Productivity should be measured. Employee feedback should be sought and incorporated to ensure a smooth transition. 

Return-to-office (RTO) mandates are clashing with employees' desire for flexible work arrangements — and the resulting disconnect could lead companies to lose talented employees. 

Zoom and Google recently joined the list of prominent organizations that are working to pull remote employees back into the office.  

Many organizations are struggling to find a balance of work flexibility that best serves both employers and employees. 

A recent survey of financial services managers by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence found that of respondents who work remotely at least some of the time, 66% said they likely would leave their role if they were required to return to the office five days a week. 

“There is a bit of a growing friction between employers and employees (regarding RTO mandates) where employees have experienced autonomy, and they've proved productive in this remote and hybrid environment,” said Neda Shemluck, managing director and U.S. financial services DEI leader for Deloitte. “There's a perception that employers are trying to control their workforce.” 

Why RTO Mandates Backfire 

For many employees, a downside of RTO -- in addition to decreased flexibility – is the impression that their employers may not have their best interests at heart. 

A 2022 Gallup survey found that 71% of hybrid employees reported better work-life balance, and 58% experienced less burnout. 

“It isn’t much of a surprise that companies are being met with resistance when asking employees to return to the office, especially among Millennials and Gen Zers, who thrived during the pandemic and began to question their pre-pandemic work environments,” said Doug Dennerline, CEO of Betterworks, a software company.  

Engagement and productivity tend to decrease when workers are required to work in an environment that they don't prefer. 

“Whether employees quit or not, there is disengagement if they feel they don't have control and autonomy in how they do their work,” Shemluck said. 

Hybrid Options Work for All Demographics 

Of the women surveyed by Deloitte, 70% were more likely to stay with their employer in the coming years if they have a high degree of work flexibility. 

Caregivers of children or elderly family members were 1.3 times more likely than surveyed non-caregivers to leave their current role if they were no longer able to work remotely. 

What's more, men were just as likely as women to want flexible or hybrid work schedules, with most men surveyed saying that remote work has improved their relationship with their children. 

“During the pandemic, people really evaluated the role work plays in their lives, and that's inclusive of both men and women,” Shemluck said. “I loved finding that 75% of men said remote working has improved their relationship with their kids. That's not something we want to lose.” 

The Business Case for Hybrid Work 

When it comes to RTO, most employees prefer a hybrid approach, rather than being fully remote or fully onsite. Put another way, employees have expressed an overwhelming willingness — even preference — to spend some time in the office, as long as flexibility is a factor. 

Among respondents to the Deloitte survey, only 8% said they prefer a fully remote schedule and only 13% wished to work five days a week in the office; most sought some form of flexible or hybrid work. 

“The ability to find talent anywhere, on top of flexibility that remote and hybrid work offers, can drive retention,” Dennerline said. “And business continuity is a major advantage for companies right now.” 

Some in-office time can also be a benefit to employees, especially those just starting their careers. 

“The deeper relationships developed through proximity, familiarity and friendship can't be discounted,” Dennerline said. “In a hybrid model, you get the best of both worlds.” 

Tips for Implementing a Hybrid Environment 

Businesses bringing employees back into the office should avoid major, quick changes such as an immediate requirement to return five days a week. 

“There's such an urgency to create policies versus having a continuous improvement mindset,” Shemluck said. “How do we refine, adapt, get a pulse from our organization on what is and isn't working? Look for more nuance and identify opportunities that everyone agrees should be in person — for example, learning, development and networking.”  

Companies should clearly state hybrid work guidelines and ensure they are providing their employees with the technology and infrastructure needed to work successfully both in the office and at home, Dennerline said. 

Implementing a hybrid environment that works for both employers and employees does more than keep employees happy — it benefits organizations. 

“From a recruiting and retention standpoint, we know flexible work is something everyone is looking closely at,” Shemluck said. “Maybe a silver lining is, if you get this right, it has such a significant impact on retention.  

“People have a lot of options right now. They're not geographically limited like they were in the past, so the war for talent has grown.” 

Editor’s Note: Additional Content 

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