By Tatum Spurck, Kelly Murphy, Gaik Ping Ooi
Major employers have been balancing work policies and in-office requirements with evolving employee needs and behaviors since 2020 to varying outcomes. While many well-known companies in the United States have adopted various workplace models post-COVID, this issue continues to be contentious between employers and employees with no clear winners. It remains to be seen which companies can set a playbook for this new world of work.
Here are key trends Golin observed around return-to-office (RTO) implications as we head into the last quarter of 2023:
1. Major U.S. employers have reinforced in-office policies following Labor Day
- In Q4, office attendance could increase from 50 percent to between 55 and 65 percent in major U.S. cities.
- However, 48 percent of employees claim these policies prioritize what leaders want instead of what employees need to do good work.
Implication: While 83 percent of workers prefer a hybrid model because they find some in-person time is valuable, how much time is needed, when and for what purpose are still under hot debate.
2. RTO looks different country to country
- The difference depends on cultural norms, the length of COVID lockdowns, worker-employer dynamics and housing density. Countries in North America and Europe have more remote/hybrid work than many Asian countries.
- For example, workers in the U.S. might have more space in their homes vs. Asian professionals who might live in smaller quarters and/or share space with more family members
Implication: Global employers need to avoid a blanket policy and factor in these regional influences for more effective outcomes.
3. Some workers are impacted more negatively than others
- In 2023, 75 percent of American mothers are working at least part-time – an increase from before the pandemic – due to the combination of remote work and in-person childcare. However, 18 percent of working mothers in the U.S. left their jobs within the past year, with a lack of workplace flexibility cited as one of the top reasons.
- People with disabilities stand to be negatively impacted by RTO policies due to transportation issues, workplace accessibility and micro or larger aggressions.
Implication: For companies prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), the potential negative impact on minority groups may set them back on the culture and environment they hope to achieve.
4. Outcomes of employee resistance remain unclear
- Even as some employees protest and/or threaten to resign over in-office attendance policies, the number of fully remote job listings steeply declined from over 20 percent as the peak in March 2022 to 8 percent in May 2023.
- While 10 percent of Amazon’s corporate workforce protested the three-day RTO mandate, some workers in favor of the policy are promoting the benefits in opposition of permanent remote work.
Implication: The regular “September Surge,” when job seekers and recruiters ramp up efforts, may see workers searching for opportunities with more flexible hybrid options that suit their needs.
5. Consequences for non-compliance are vague
- Some companies are tracking badge entry data or gathering manager feedback to ensure compliance and warning that violations could impact promotions, raises and even result in termination.
- However, 40 percent of HR leaders “do not have consequences for not meeting attendance requirements or recommendations.” Of those trying to enforce compliance, 44 percent said managers would encourage change and only 15 percent would put noncompliant employees on performance improvement plans, 8 percent would lower performance reviews and 7 percent would reduce bonuses.”
Implication: Policy enforcements seem unclear and uneven as employers continue to monitor attendance data and weigh the pros and cons between applying strict penalties and losing valuable talent.
Guiding your employees through RTO policies? Golin can help in the following ways:
- Conduct industry monitoring and analysis to benchmark your company’s policies and outcomes
- Provide counsel and support to effectively communicate and engage with employees through this change
- Identify and create opportunities for meaningful in-office gatherings
- Develop best practices and team trainings for more purposeful meetings and hybrid collaboration
Interested to learn more? Contact GP Ooi at email@example.com.