4 Key Challenges Employers Face in Back-to-Office Efforts

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It’s approaching 3 years since many companies first announced temporary remote work policies in response to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 infections ramping up at that time. It’s an ironic anniversary, considering those policies were expected to last roughly 3 weeks when launched.

Not All Employers Committed to Remote Work

While employees around the world have gotten used to working from home, that doesn’t mean employers have resigned themselves to the inevitability of remote work. Many major employers, including Apple, Amazon, Deloitte, Microsoft, Citibank, and many more, have at least attempted some kind of back-to-the-office mandate, but many have encountered strong pushback.

“As increasing numbers of companies are requiring employees to return to the office for 3-5 days per week in 2023, they’re running into the buzzsaw of what one of my clients called the ‘Four Horsemen of the Required Return to Office’—challenges with resistance, attrition, quiet quitting, and diversity,” writes Dr. Gleb Tsipursky in an article for Forbes. “The Four Horsemen stem from the fact that workers who are capable of working remotely prefer to do so for most or all of the time.”

The 4 Horsemen of Return to Work Challenges

The first three of these “Horsemen”—resistance, attrition, and quiet quitting—are fairly intuitive. Employees who are forced to come back to the office against their will are predictably going to resist, potentially even to the point of quitting, and those who don’t quit are prone to disengagement. The fourth—diversity—is perhaps not as obvious, but it sadly results from the fact that those from traditionally marginalized groups are more likely to feel subject to microaggressions and discrimination in the office than they are working from home.

This means, in the aggregate, employees of color tend to be less eager to return to the office than their white colleagues.

Diverse Employees Most Resistant

“A Future Forum survey found that 21% of all White knowledge workers wanted a return to full-time in-office work, but only 3% of all Black knowledge workers wanted the same,” notes Tsipursky. “That’s a huge difference! Another Future Forum survey found that 38% of Black men wanted a fully flexible schedule, but only 26% of white men. The Society for Human Resource Management found that half of all Black office workers wanted to work from home permanently, while only 39% of white workers did so.” Based on these preferences, workplace diversity can suffer, as non-white workers may be more likely to leave the organization over a return-to-work policy.

Many employers remain firm in their commitment to a return to the office, but given the strong level of resistance and other negative impacts many employers are seeing, careful consideration should be given to such policies. That’s not to say companies should absolutely not force workers back to the office; rather, they should ensure the expected benefits of those policies outweigh the potential pitfalls.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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