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Report: 47% of employees say they’ll quit if employer orders full-time return to office

Written on Aug 18, 2023

An analysis of flexible work models shows that almost half of employees indicate they would quit a job or begin looking for a new job immediately if their employer mandated a full-time return-to-office policy. 

The data from Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a health and productivity research non-profit, found that remote and hybrid employees are 22% more productive, 21% more satisfied, and 51% more highly engaged. While multiple studies suggest that most employees want to retain some form of remote work (as many as 89%), some employers are implementing return to the office full or part-time. 

In a news release, IBI Researcher Carole Bonner said, "Many studies have found that flexible work schedules improve well-being, engagement, and organizational commitment. Offering flexibility can mitigate the risks of burnout, and ensure employees are maximizing their productivity. Employers that are seeing improved attraction and retention rates, and attracting top talent, are often the ones offering the most flexibility." 

A majority (85%) of employers say they already offer or plan to offer some kind of flexible work arrangement, whether that's fully remote, or hybrid with varying quantities of days split between home and office. However, IBI's findings highlight a significant gap between employers and employees regarding the future workplace. Only 15.1% of remote-capable employees expressed a desire to return to the office full-time, while significantly more (22.5%) of US employers with remote-capable employees want their employees back in the office full-time. 

Employers cite a number of reasons for wanting employees back in the office, including empty office space expenditures, questions surrounding true productivity measures, and hurting creativity and community amongst workforces. When asked about the top benefits of working at the office, most employees cited socializing (51%) and face-to-face collaboration (47%). Other noteworthy benefits of in-office work include access to better equipment and improved boundaries between work/personal time. 

Employees' subjective wellbeing (SWB), a measurement of happiness, paints a less rosy picture. Those who work fully onsite are less likely to rate their level of happiness as high. Those who work in an office-first arrangement, with 1-2 days working from home each week, are the most likely to have the highest possible SWB rating. 

What does this mean for employers? 

To provide actionable guidance for employers, IBI consulted HR executives on their recommendations. In those discussions, it was clear that there were differences in experiences in terms of changes, demographic preferences, and push-back from employees. 

The areas of focus for employers should be: 

  • Communication/Technology: Encourage online forums, virtual social gatherings, and team-building activities for virtual employees. Promote instant messaging, video conferencing, and project management. 

  • Connectedness and Social Interaction: Organize virtual coffee breaks, mentorship, and cross-departmental collaboration. Virtual networking promotes knowledge sharing, innovation, and cross-departmental collaboration. 

  • Recognition: Recognizing staff achievements online. Virtual events, team shout-outs, and personal messages show gratitude and belonging. 

  • Health and Wellbeing: Normalize employee self-care and wellness. Offer breaks, mindfulness, and virtual wellness activities. 

  • Modeling the Culture: Engage in virtual discussions, attend virtual meetings, and communicate openly. 

Most importantly, IBI researchers note there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and it's critical to listen to what employees want. Employers can utilize employee feedback to make informed judgments about which arrangements to apply and how to adjust them to their own organizational needs. 

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