What do the numbers say about return to office resistance?
Many leaders and managers believe that it’s time to return to the office in 2022. But it seems most workers disagree. In a 2022 study by Ivanti, 87% of workers indicated they do not want to return to the office full-time, and 45% of those workers don’t want to return to the office at all. Return-to-office resistance is real. And, if you’re not careful, resistance could easily change to resignation.
Rather than jumping ahead with forcing employees to start in-person work again, it’s essential to understand why this return to office resistance exists and do our best as a company or leader to overcome these objections. So, why won’t people want to go back to work?
Why are employees hesitant to return to the office?
- Health & Safety
At the start of the pandemic, social distancing and masking became commonplace. And not everyone is ready to give up these safety measures or risk their health in an in-office setting. And it isn’t just about Covid-19. Instances of the flu in the US dropped 98% when these public health measures were in place. No one likes being sick, and in-person work (without accompanying safety measures) increases the chances of catching any number of illnesses.
- Work-Life Balance Flexibility
Before the pandemic, companies tried their best to produce work/life balance for employees. But balance doesn’t look the same for everyone, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The flexibility of working from home has created the opportunity for workers to manage their own balance by taking advantage of flexible working conditions. Asking workers to return to rigid schedules in a set place removes the freedom that creates work/life balance.
- Time Management & Money Savings
Working from home has afforded many employees both time and money savings. No more commuting means extra time to sleep or even fit in a morning workout or some housework. Being home means less driving which, of course, uses less fuel and adds to cost savings. On top of that, many parents were able to oversee their children from home, saving money on childcare. Workers may not want to give up these savings and conveniences.
- Productivity & Distractions
Many workers believe they are more productive at home than at the office. And research agrees. A pre-pandemic study of 16,000 employees showed that people who worked from home were 13% more productive than those assigned to the office. Current research supports that, with Prodoscore reporting a 5% increase in productivity among 30,000 of its users during the pandemic. At home, workers can turn off notifications and dive into deep work. We often can’t stop our coworkers or manager from stopping by and interrupting us in the office.
- Autonomy & Trust
The pandemic truly changed the way employers had to trust and give autonomy to their employees. Working alone at home means less micromanaging—great for employees; tough for some leaders. Companies have learned to rely on their employees’ work ethic and purpose to keep them motivated. Forcing people back into the office signals that this trust is being rescinded.
Generational gap in return to office resistance
Despite the many reasons workers don’t like going back to the office, there is hope. Fast Company reports a generational gap in preferences. Gen-Xers are more likely to want to return to the office, while Millennials are more likely to be resistant to returning to office (Boomers trended toward neutral). There’s also a difference between active and passive resistance. Just because a worker resists returning to the office doesn’t mean they never will. But it does require companies stepping up and addressing these objections.
How to overcome return to office resistance Ask First
The chances of facing return to office objections are much lower if you stop demanding and start asking. A quick message or poll can tell you exactly who is comfortable returning to the office and who is not. This is useful so companies can determine how much resistance there is to overcome. The trick here is to be sincere in your inquiry. Don’t word your question in a way that makes people feel guilty or threatened for saying they aren’t comfortable returning to in-office work.
- Have a conversation & Get the Why
Now that you know who has objections to returning to the office, it’s critical to determine what those objections are specifically. This article has covered several common reasons, but these may or may not apply to everyone, and there are certainly more objections we didn’t cover. The only way to properly face a problem or objection is to know what it is.
- Step Back & Self-Evaluate
It’s not time for action yet. First, companies should step back and evaluate what they have learned. List the objections you gathered from your workers about the return to office debate. Reflect on your company policy and structure and how it affects each aspect of these objections. What can you do to mitigate this opposition? This may require plans to change physical spaces, adjustments in compensation, or altering work policies.
- Make Changes
Now is the time for action. There is no way to overcome objections without making some sort of change. If a company doesn’t change, then they are essentially strong-arming workers into returning, and they will leave at their earliest opportunity. Change is necessary to keep up in this ever-evolving world.
While global circumstances forced many into work-from-home situations, some would like it to stay that way (and for good reasons). If you want workers to return to the office, you’ll need to start adapting to a new way of working and overcome in-office resistance.