Leadership   //   April 19, 2022

What bosses really think about employees who don’t want to return to office

Companies have largely accommodated those who are not quite ready to reenter the workplace, but that flexibility appears to be at odds with what many bosses really think.

GoodHire, a company that facilitates employee background checks, polled 3,500 managers in the U.S. and found that more than three-quarters (77%) said severe consequences would occur — including pay cuts, loss of benefits, even termination — for those who refuse to return.

More than half of all managers (60%) agreed that a mandate to return to the office full-time will happen this year, while three-quarters (75%) said they prefer some type of in-person working arrangement, either hybrid or fully in-office. Meanwhile, only half of managers (51%) believe that employees actually want to return to the office. 

In addition, 73% said productivity and engagement had either improved or stayed the same with remote work compared to in-office work, while slightly fewer (68%) said a fully remote operation would either add to their profits or that the bottom line would stay the same.

This comes as some bosses who have set mandates for a return to the office, including JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, have had to concede defeat, at least partially. Meanwhile, in certain instances tensions are rising among those employees who have returned to the workplace and those who have remained remote.

Despite their true feelings about employees needing to return, bosses have had to face a very different kind of reality as the pandemic wanes. As GoodHire managing editor Sara Korolevich put it, “Managers are realizing they cannot just flip the switch and demand that all employees return to the office for all of their shifts.”

Many employers continue to reject a hardline approach, stressing that productivity trumps proximity.

“I’m quite unsympathetic to managers who insist that employees return to the office full-time, or even [most of the time]. I tell my clients that if their managers can’t manage remotely, they have managers who don’t understand their job — and I say this as someone who has personally always preferred to work in an office,” said Mitchell Muncy, principal at Prospera, a business consultancy. “I believe the demand that employees return to the office has more to do with managers’ unwillingness to take responsibility for thinking through, clearly communicating and adequately facilitating what is required for good performance, than it does with employees’ need for supervision.”

“I think that managers who are imposing these consequences are missing the mark and they’re going to suffer from it,” added Daniel Javor, founder and CEO of Step by Step Business, a consultancy for entrepreneurs. “What we learned during the pandemic is that remote work works if you do it right. It’s the way of the future and many companies are embracing it. The companies and managers who don’t accept it are going to lose good people and have to go through a huge transition.”

Javor explained that his company will continue to operate under a remote setup, which has worked well in that it keeps his employees happy, loyal and motivated.

“Employees have so many options now, and many are even turning to entrepreneurship to get the flexibility they desire,” he said. “My advice to managers is don’t fight it, join it.”