Hardline Stances Over Return to Office Cost Companies Talent

Aug 19, 2021 | Executive Coaching, Political Agility

If there is a silver lining to this Coronavirus cloud, it’s the fact that many employees across America have experienced life at home with family on a consistent basis. And we love it! Our lives are not as work-centric any longer, and we’re stacking our priorities differently. Commutes and time spent in a cubicle are going down the scale quickly.

After 18 months of remote work, some companies are seeking a return to normalcy.  Bosses are calling employees back to the office, and workers are responding with pushback – up to and including resigning.

There is a new normal emerging that employers must define for their organizations before economic forces do it for them.

If “normal” means a return to the old corporate culture which rewards those willing to work long hours at the expense of personal health and family time, a lot of office workers don’t want it.

However, all roads on a vertical career path typically lead through the hallowed halls of corporate headquarters.

The question today is not “can I work at home?” but “can I advance at home?”


Pros for Returning to the Workplace

As Woody Allen famously said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”

There has always been an incentive to work at corporate headquarters, if for nothing more than visibility and social interaction. You are guaranteed not to bump into the COO on your quick run to the pantry from your spare bedroom/home office. Those unplanned encounters (or quick, ad hoc interactions) can only happen where the boss’s office is. Increased exposure to the C-suite, hopefully, equates to top-of-mind awareness when vacancies come open for internal promotion.

Companies are offering a variety of perks to lure people back to the workplace. On the low end of the prize bonanza you have Amazon gift cards, chair massages, and Tuesday taco bars. The stratosphere of incentives includes vacations to Barbados, flights on the corporate jet, $10,000 cash, or a new Tesla.

Is it worth it for corporations to shell out insane amounts of money to bring their workforce back into the office?


Employee dissatisfaction is expensive to corporate America. A recent Gallup estimate places the price of unhappy workers between $450 and $550 Million a year in lost productivity and employee churn.

Workers have had a year-and-a-half of flexibility in hours, freedom from soul-crushing commutes, and every day being “Take Your Dog/Kid/Spouse to Work Day.” Some have saved up discretionary dollars by not spending on wardrobe, gas, parking, meals, and dry cleaning. They’re willing to live on this pile of cash until something better turns up. And under current market conditions, help wanted signs are everywhere.

Some employees are much more emboldened now to press for working conditions that retain the flexibility and autonomy they’ve grown to appreciate. If their current employer cannot or will not make concessions, good luck finding a replacement.


Return to Workplace Cons

Returning to the office puts a disproportionate strain on working parents and those who have an elderly relative in the home. The AARP reports family caregivers spend an average of 16 hours each week caring for a loved one. Sixty percent also work a full- or part-time job on top of those caregiving hours. Managers need to present a compelling reason for working in the office when it takes employees away from their caregiving duties at home.

Every position should be evaluated to determine a bona fide need for an individual to be present in the office. Some functions are best handled with in-person interactions to build trust and reinforce company culture. But the boss who demands facetime with employees every day, only to have them sit in a fishbowl and talk on conference calls that could have been handled from home, is creating a deep well of resentment that could lead to passive disengagement or vindictive sabotage.

The solution comes through open communication between both parties to strike a balance between organizational goals and personal needs. Perhaps a hybrid work schedule that helps working families juggle childcare or elder care would emerge if the right conversation took place.

People, in general, are scared to have a conversation about it.  Employers are not initiating the dialogue. Employees below a certain level in the org chart are afraid of appearing “difficult” by advocating for themselves.

There is a chilling effect among the rank and file when it comes to negotiating for terms that could make it easier to retain talent who require special accommodations for handling challenges outside of work. Employees assume their boss will be rigid and inflexible when approached, and they simply vote with their feet rather than risk being vulnerable about their needs. The company then incurs all the costs of recruiting and on-boarding a new hire.


What’s the Solution?

As I previously stated, a new normal is emerging in the workplace, and it exposes deficiencies in communication and empathy.

Empathy seems to be the new HR buzz word.

A general malaise or fatigue is overtaking American workers. People are tired of COVID, tired of politics, tired of strained race relations, tired of social media trolls, and tired of their jobs.

In the case of a fulltime employee who’s been caring for an ailing mother while working from home for the past year, an unbending “come back to the office or else” edict shows a complete lack of empathy.  She’s tired.  She’s leaving.

What does the same conversation look like when delivered with empathy?

We’ll dive into that in the next companion article on this blog.



The term “new normal” is a harbinger of change. You can meet the challenge of change management with confidence. inclineHR can guide you.

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