COVID-19 caused many employees to re-evaluate their priorities and re-examine their place of work’s role in supporting their wellness goals.
This change in perspective led employees to leave their jobs in droves in what became known as the Great Resignation. In November 2021, resignations reached a record high, as 4.5 million workers left their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With 4.3 million employees quitting in January 2022, the flood of resignations shows no signs of slowing down.
As companies transition back to in-person work, resignations may rise even further. Many employees who worked remotely during the pandemic have grown accustomed to the freedom and flexibility of remote work, and they are not ready to give it up. According to a report from Bloomberg, 55% of workers said they would consider quitting if asked to return to their jobs.
To see whether employers feel their return-to-office plans might exacerbate employee turnover, Wellable asked the large, growing, and dedicated community of human resources professionals, wellness practitioners, and organizational leaders subscribed to the Wellable Newsletter if they expect an increase in turnover with the return of in-person work. Among the companies planning to return to the office in some fashion, 52% expect an increase in turnover while 48% do not.
Question: Is your company expecting an increase in employee turnover with the return of in-person work?
Clearly then, there is division and uncertainty. This can be seen in the opposing strategies of several major companies. For example, while Facebook is removing lavish office perks that were intended to make the office more desirable others are offering expensive prizes (e.g., Teslas, vacations, and $10,000 lotteries) to encourage employees to return to work.
The reality is that it’s too early to tell who’s right. The best plan under such uncertain conditions is to prepare for the possibility that turnover will increase. By following the steps below, employers ensure that their transition back to in-person work doesn't come at the expense of talent attraction and retention.
- Provide a clear and compelling justification: Employees unhappy about the transition back to the office may be more likely to leave if they feel they don’t understand why the shift is essential. Employers must provide their workers with a clear and compelling justification to address this problem. It’s important to note that all explanations are not created equal. For instance, employees are unlikely to feel better about returning to work if the reason they are given is that their employers want to increase productivity. On the other hand, if the return-to-office is grounded in the desire to foster stronger connections between employees, improve organizational culture, and promote innovation, workers will be more likely to feel the transition is warranted.
- Ask employees to voice their concerns: When making any significant organizational change employees are likely to have reservations about, it’s important to offer them an opportunity to voice their concerns. Doing so is beneficial for two reasons. First, it shows workers that their employers care about how the change impacts them. Second, it allows companies to focus their time and energy on solutions that meet the specific needs of their employees.
- Offer flexibility: While the return-to-office concerns may vary from one organization to the next, some considerations are nearly universal. For example, most employees who are reluctant to return to the office are likely worried about retaining the flexibility afforded by remote-work arrangements. Fortunately, several in-person setups allow workers to recover a considerable amount of flexibility. For example, hybrid work lets employees work from home for some portion of the workweek. Adjustable start and end times enable employees to come in whenever is most convenient for them, given their work habits and non-work-related obligations. Similarly, shortened work weeks restrict the amount of time that employees need to be in the office, allowing them to detach from work entirely for a larger percentage of the week.
- Expand benefits: Like any other choice, deciding whether to leave one’s organization is ultimately a matter of balancing the pros against the cons. By expanding their benefits packages, employers can tackle both considerations at once. For example, employers can ensure that a return to in-person work doesn’t cause additional frustrations for the caregivers within their ranks by offering caregiver benefits (e.g., child-care service subsidies or near-site child care). In addition, other uncommon benefits (e.g., tuition reimbursement, down payment assistance for home buyers, pet insurance, etc.) can provide employees with hard-to-replicate positives that may outweigh any residual negatives associated with a return to in-person work.
- Make the office more inclusive: As the New York Times reports, women and people of culture are less likely to find a return to the office beneficial when compared to their white male colleagues. Exclusive office designs likely provide a partial explanation. The Times notes that “when one of America’s earliest open-plan offices debuted in Racine, Wis., in 1939, women made up less than one-third of the country’s labor force.” Workplace cultures often exacerbate the issue as marginalized groups are likely to experience microaggressions from their colleagues, making them feel unsafe and out of place at the office. To address this issue, organizations must make their office designs and cultures more inclusive. For example, while companies may wish to include open areas designed to foster communication, they must also offer quiet, enclosed workspaces for employees who prefer less social interaction. Additionally, companies must double down on their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives so that all groups feel welcome, safe, and free to be themselves.