Many employees still feel resentful over having to go back to in-person work, but new data suggests they should maybe just keep those thoughts to themselves — especially if they aren’t exceptionally good at their jobs. Some 56% of managers say it’s a “major red flag” when employees are enthusiastically against returning to in-person work, a survey of over 3,000 U.S.-based workers from employee background screening platform Checkr found.
And 38% of employees also think it’s a red flag when one of their coworkers is vehemently against working in the office, that survey found.
It comes as employers continue tweaking their hybrid arrangements and in some cases are now upping the number of days staff must return. For example, supermarket chain Kroger required corporate staff back in offices twice a week last year, but is now going to three to four days a week in-person this year, according to Reuters.
Those against returning for any kind of reason are now doing a delicate dance: making issues clear and asking for accommodations without giving a negative perception of their performance and commitment to their roles. At the same time though, one’s track record and performance are closely linked to how others will react to their discontent.
“If you’re a slacking employee, you got two choices, either buckle up, or you’re going to have to find something else because you don’t have a whole lot to leverage,” said Kevin Martin, chief research officer at i4cp, a human capital research firm.
High-performing employees however will ultimately get less pushback or risk less negative attention on themselves, and will likely have an easier time negotiating accommodations based on their issues with RTO policies, Martin said. They should reiterate how they’ve consistently hit objectives and meaningfully contributed to the business when bringing up concerns with managers, he said. In other words, they can be trusted.
“Our advice to companies is you’ve got to train your leaders and hold them accountable to manage outcomes, not the when and where of work,” Martin said.
Making exceptions is an ongoing challenge though, especially if high-performing employees are allowed to work from home while lower performers who could benefit from working alongside their more capable colleagues are required in offices.
“You don’t want an office filled with just your average and lower performers while your top performers have the freedom to work wherever they want,” said Micah Remley, CEO of workplace tech firm Robin.
And differentiating top performers who’ve earned it and can be trusted versus those who can’t isn’t always straightforward. Yearly performance reviews are the main tool employers use to tangibly measure how well staff are doing their jobs, though they are rarely objective.
A quarter of workers said they felt their performance reviews are negatively affected by their supervisors’ personal biases toward them, an August survey from work equity platform Syndio including over 1,000 respondents found. And at nearly two-thirds of organizations, performance evaluations are completed exclusively by an employee’s direct manager.
“This over-reliance on a single supervisor’s discretion means there are no mitigating perspectives to counteract or diffuse the impact of bias,” the report said.
But tying performance reviews to RTO exceptions is likely the way forward at many organizations, Remley said. And managers who’ve been caught in the middle of staff and upper management’s conflicting concerns around returning will continue to be the key decision-makers. “Unfortunately, managers have to play a significant role in this, and it’s funny because managers don’t want to do it,” he said.
“It’s messy, it’s kind of the last thing they want to be caught in, it’s sort of like being caught in a cultural war,” he said.
“But if you’re a manager you don’t want to let your top performer go just because they want to work from home four days a week, and your office requirement is two days a week in the office, right? You won’t lose the top performer over one day a week in the office,” he said.