Easing the return to the workplace

'Employees are struggling and we're seeing a very sharp drop when it comes to experience scores'

Easing the return to the workplace

As COVID restrictions continue to be lifted, many employers are hoping to see more workers return to the office, with mixed results.

Fortunately for workers, it appears employers are not being overly draconian when it comes to forcing them back.

According to a new report released by Stanford University and The University of Chicago, about 35 per cent of workers were not sanctioned severely for being in the workplace fewer times than they initially promised.

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And the news is positive for those who want to remain at home for more days per week than what organizations are offering, as they are being offered 1.6 days of working from home, versus 1.1 days in January 2021.

The gap between worker wants and employer needs has never been smaller since the start of the survey as workers currently wish to work from home about 2.6 days per week.

Disconnect remains

However, ratings provided by employees around how they are feeling about their jobs are lower than they have been in two years.

“As employers are rolling out their return-to-office policies, employee sentiment is down; employees are struggling and we’re seeing a very sharp drop when it comes to experience scores and some factors like work-related stress and anxiety, they’re at record lows,” says Sheela Subramanian, vice-president of Future Forum at Slack in San Francisco.

Inflexible policies are the biggest reason behind these dismal numbers, according to Subramanian.

“Full-time office workers are posting two times steeper declines when it comes to employee experience, relative to their peers and counterparts who actually have flexibility in where and when they work,” she says.

Many workers are not being offered flexibility, which is leading to mass dissatisfaction and resignations, finds the survey of 10,818 knowledge workers in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the U.K. between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21.

‘Overwhelming for many’

Having employees return to the workplace en masse will lead to levels of increased anxiety, according to Margo Hoyt, managing director of talent and leadership development at HR consulting firm LHH in Ottawa.

“We’ve hit a place where leaders, employees, organizations have become quite familiar with a different way of working than we were familiar [with] before, and there’s been so much positive related to that, but the anxiety and stress of having to give that up and go back and work full-time in an office is really quite overwhelming for many,” she says.

Yet another report shows that for those employees who are being forced back, mass resignations might be the unintended result of imposing harsher rules.

A recent report from workspace provider IWG revealed that 41 per cent of remote workers are worried that their employer will ask them to return to offices five times a week, with 45 per cent saying that they would consider changing jobs if asked to do so.

To counter this, organizational leaders might consider leaning into hybrid work as an option: 81 per cent of office workers said hybrid working was an important factor when they are looking for a new job. They even ranked it even higher than pension contributions, bonuses or profit sharing, and unlimited vacation or holiday allowances, according to IWG.

“Employers who don’t offer hybrid working are going to miss out on the best talent,” Berger said. “Not only do employees benefit from dramatically improved work-life balance, but by switching to a hybrid model, businesses can expect to save an average of more than $13,000 per employee — all while minimizing their carbon footprint,” says Wayne Berger, CEO of Americas, IWG.

How to entice employees

With all this in mind, what can businesses do to make employees feel good about returning to the workplace more often?

Increasing outside space and natural light is a great place to start, according to a survey done by Instant Offices.

Seventy per cent of respondents said by offering more light and nature would go a long way to reducing stress. Providing copious relaxation areas and non-work spaces onsite, is favoured by 59 per cent of workers surveyed.

Employees also crave adjustable temperatures in the workplace, as respondents said improvements to air quality are key drivers to wellness in the workplace.

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