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Mandating on-site work could hurt employee retention

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More than half of companies are now mandating or strongly encouraging their workers to come to the office, yet 80% of employees are still working remote or hybrid schedules, according to a June 30 report from The Conference Board.

Contention between return-to-office and work-from-home policies could lead to worker dissatisfaction and a drop in retention, the report found. About a third of workers required to come back to the workplace said their plans to stay with their company have decreased.

“In a world that can often seem like it’s gone mad, we need to reimagine the workplace as an oasis for workers,” Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital for The Conference Board, said in a statement.

“Businesses should not only be thoughtful about why they’re asking people to come back to the office but make it a place where people can come to do their best work, can learn and grow and can have a meaningful impact,” she said.

In a survey of 1,300 U.S. employees who are predominantly office workers, 28% had fully remote schedules, and 50% worked a variation of a hybrid schedule with at least some remote work. Only 15% said they had on-site work five days per week.

More than half of workers said their organization either mandated or strongly encouraged on-site work. About 29% mandated it, and 25% strongly encouraged it.

Yet employees said that mandates could hurt worker retention. About 28% of workers at companies with mandates said their intent to stay at the company had decreased in the last six months.

However, 33% of fully remote employees said their organizations had implemented layoffs in the past six months, as compared with 25% of hybrid workers and 13% of fully on-site workers.

Even still, fully remote workers said they felt more productive. About 35% of remote workers said their productivity is higher than six months ago, as compared with 22% of hybrid workers and 20% of on-site workers. In addition, about 19% of on-site workers reported decreased productivity, as compared with 16% of hybrid workers and 8% of fully remote workers.

Despite the gains in productivity, both hybrid and remote workers noted that their top concern was related to fewer opportunities to connect with their team. About 45% of remote workers and 37% of hybrid workers said they’re concerned about making connections with their colleagues, particularly now that only 47% of their organizations offer in-person team building and celebratory events.

“Workers are looking for opportunities to connect with their colleagues. Offering chances to get together and celebrate may provide some with enough of a reason to go into the office,” Robin Erickson, vice president of human capital for The Conference Board, said in a statement.

“But keep in mind that being together in person is not the only way to recognize accomplishments and celebrate as a team,” she said. “Leaders should be intentional about building culture and camaraderie in a remote setting as well.”

As companies continue to figure out work arrangements this year, hybrid options may remain the most popular way to accommodate employer needs and employee desires, according to a recent survey. More than 70% of U.S. employers appear to be sticking with hybrid arrangements, though some are setting stricter policies around in-office requirements.

At the same time, employers are keeping an eye on potential negative consequences, such as increases in anxiety and depression for remote and hybrid workers. Mental health benefits and other telehealth options could help with presenteeism and absences. 

Setting norms around flexibility, visibility and connection also appear to help with these hybrid arrangements, according to another recent report. Connectivity and communication among workers can lead to higher engagement, inclusion and performance — as well as better retention.

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