Blog Post

The Current Return-to-Office Mandate Landscape: Risks Abound for Those Who Do Not Prioritize Employee Listening

By Michael Rizzotti
August 18, 2023

Recent research by Axios suggests that failing to integrate reputable research and employee feedback can be a critical misstep when making return-to-office plans, and we are seeing more and more of these research discussions pop up on money and business channels. It seems that companies are shifting their focus away from employee needs and instead are prioritizing their customers. This change in focus has led to employee retaliation against return-to-office mandates. In today’s talent market, employees care more about job security, company performance, and flexibility than “going all in” on corporate loyalty, and Columbia research shows that the mantra “employees are a company’s greatest asset” is communicated by companies but falls short in practice.

Companies and their managers are not fully listening to their employees’ needs and seem to be receding from prior tools and processes they once used to maintain morale and build a healthy culture. However, this does not mesh well with the new flexibility desired by their employees and is therefore backfiring and bearing no fruit. Employee engagement can be interpreted as a broad indicator of how motivated an employee is at work; according to global estimates, only 13 percent of employees are engaged at their current jobs. 

What is working is reevaluating and questioning these culture-building processes and management techniques that better serve a remote/flexible workforce based on what their employees want with this new way of working. Many organizations seek to collect this information via employee engagement surveys, but these surveys often do not provide the information needed to drive lasting change.

Companies are erring in shifting their focus to the customer at the cost of addressing the needs of their employees. This is not to say a split is needed, but there needs to be between the resources spent on employees and customer focus.

Key Recommendations

We need to stop calling it “return to work” and instead opt for “return to office.” Your employees have worked hard for your company, have demonstrated their commitment, and have provided deliverables in a timely manner whether operating at home or at the office. Employees or teams whose performance suffered outside the office should not be weaponized as a reason to say “hybrid/remote isn’t working; we need to bring everyone back into the office.” Rather, managers need to reevaluate if that particular individual or team needs more support or in-person time, based on research for that particular type of team or job category.

Implementing return-to-office mandates without sharing the proper data or listening to employees (as we do in our employee voice sessions) is an effort to stiff-arm employees into outdated ways of working or hyper-monitoring practices. Such practices only further generate feelings of distrust between your company and employees.

Companies should address the needs of their shareholders and other interests as well as those of their employees. You need to give employees an opportunity to express their needs, and then work together to build solutions. Interested in learning more about how Seramount can help you strategize based on employee feedback through our Assess360 solution? Contact us.

About the Author

Michael Rizzotti
Head of Research, Measurement, and Insights