The return-to-office tug of war is still on for most companies.
At least that’s true for 73% of companies that said they were struggling to get workers back into offices, according to a new small survey from the Conference Board, a business research organization.
Those employers are holding parties and other events, being flexible about what days and hours staff work in-person, and relaxing dress codes to get more staff back to offices, according to the survey which polled 180 U.S.-based human resources executives.
Other enticements included building new employee cafes, on-site dental and eyeglass clinics and providing emergency on-site daycare, according to Robin Erickson, vp of human capital at the Conference Board and lead author of the report.
Erickson said she hasn’t heard of any companies actually walking back RTO plans, but said she wouldn’t be surprised if they started to “given the challenges those mandating return to the workplace are having with retention,” she said.
Bringing workers back to offices is the second trickiest task employers are currently dealing with, while the first is finding qualified workers, according to the survey. And those RTO mandates are also impacting retention efforts, the survey found.
For those working at companies mandating employees return to the office, about 70% said they’re having trouble retaining current staff. That’s compared to about 45% at companies where staff can choose where they work.
Fully on-site companies also saw voluntary turnover rise 26% over the last six months, almost twice the rate seen with fully-remote workers.
Another survey from Unispace out this May found almost half of firms that mandated RTO are experiencing higher than normal employee attrition, and 29% are struggling to recruit.
At the same time, there’s still a major disconnect between employers and staff over the purpose of the office and what concerns are driving widespread employee pushback.
“Do not oversimplify this problem,” said David Astorino, a senior partner at RHR international. “What happened during the pandemic was a great questioning of ‘why do we do this this way?’”
More than half of workers said they struggle to carry out their core job in the office due to distractions, according to the Unispace survey, which included responses from over 9,000 employees and over 6,000 employers globally and across industries.
On the other hand, 83% of employers said they think their office is set up specifically to make employees more productive.
Key reasons employees cited for preferring to work from home include less noise and fewer distractions, and generally feeling more productive when working remotely. Employers said they thought the commute was the biggest reason workers aren’t keen on returning, that survey found.
“Employees are really saying they value autonomy, more than anything else,” Astroino said.
Their pushback is evident, as 76% of professional and office workers are still currently on a hybrid or remote schedule, the Conference Board survey found.
“As long as we have a labor shortage, that desire for flexibility from employees will be there,” Erickson said.
Ultimately though, even major tech companies with sprawling, amenities-filled campuses have run into problems. Google had to turn to badge tracking to get staff to comply with a hybrid, three-days per week in-person schedule.
“Even with all of those benefits, they’re not seeing people come back, and I think we really have to be so humbled by that,” Astorino said.