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High performers likely to leave over strict RTO mandates, Gartner finds

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Dive Brief:

  • When companies implement rigid return-to-office (RTO) mandates, they’re likely to drive away high-performing employees, women and millennials, according to findings released Jan. 30 by consulting firm Gartner’s HR practice.
  • High performers’ intent to stay was 16% lower with employers that have strict RTO requirements — double the rate of average employees (8%), the survey found. Among women and millennials, the intent to stay was 11% and 10% lower, respectively, according to the 2,080 knowledge workers surveyed in May and June 2023. In a separate June 2023 survey of 3,500 employees, nearly half said their company’s RTO mandates prioritize what leaders want versus what employees need to do good work, Gartner noted.
  • “Mandated on-site requirements can carry very steep costs for talent attraction and retention. This is especially true for high-performers, women and millennials — three employee segments who greatly value flexibility,” Gartner HR practice Director Caitlin Duffy stated in a press release. “Often these costs far outweigh the moderate benefits to employee engagement and effort,” Duffy said.

Dive Insight:

As 2024 wades into its second month, stakeholders continue to adjust to evolving RTO and hybrid work practices.

There have been successes, like financial technology firm Global Payments, which refashioned a mandatory RTO policy into a hybrid approach after employee feedback revealed that the lack of flexibility was one of the top reasons people were leaving the company.

Before rolling out the new approach, the company’s HR president reached out to employee resource groups, including its diversity action team, the CHRO recently told HR Dive. Knowing they have flexibility to respond to something going on in their personal life makes it easier for them to come into the office, the CHRO said.

Leading an RTO trend that fosters inclusiveness and belonging, Minnesota-based The Coven offers co-working space designed with community in mind. This creates a sense of physical and psychological safety, which in turn allows members to focus on the work, one of the co-founders previously explained.

For many employees, working in-office is simply more pragmatic. While the preference leans toward remote work whenever possible, professionals will take office-based roles if those roles provide the best career growth, according to a recruitment expert.

Flexibility has positive results, especially with high-performers, women and millennials, the Gartner survey found. For instance, high performers feel they proved themselves and maintained high levels of performance throughout the pandemic and remote work, but see mandates as a signal they still can’t be trusted to work autonomously to make the best choices about how their work gets done, Gartner said.

“Losing high-performers to attrition cost[s] organizations in terms of productivity, difficulty in backfilling the role, and the overall loss of high-quality talent available to fill critical positions,” HR practice director Duffy said.

Increased flexibility and the ability to work from home during the pandemic had a positive affect on the ability of women to manage work and life priorities in a holistic, integrated way, Duffy added. Women also report experiencing fewer microaggressions and biases compared to when working in an office.

For millennials, the generation now most likely to have caregiving responsibilities, Gartner data found their performance was lower at organizations with RTO mandates, the firm noted.

It recommended four best practices HR leaders can consider if their organizations seek to formalize an in-office work requirement:

  1. Motivate, rather than mandate, by designing office spaces and hybrid policies that make everyone feel capable, autonomous and connected;
  2. Focus on yearly, not weekly, attendance requirements;
  3. Enable employees to shape the policy; and
  4. Provide clear reasons for requiring employees to work on-site.

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