Increasingly, employers and HR Managers are handling the rising “Great Resignation” phenomenon as employees increasingly “refuse to return” to the office. COVID-19 mandates have eased around the globe as the world tentatively stops holding its breath. Employers across industries are considering calling their teams back into the physical office space. However, many employees are reluctant or even refuse to return which poses many potentially awkward situations for employers that are difficult to navigate.
In fact, a poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that 4 out of 5 respondents countrywide don’t want to return to their pre-pandemic schedule. 35% said that they would quit if made to work on-site.
The employees’ reasons aren’t just limited to the virus. Employees enjoy the convenience of working from home, the lack of a commute, and the increased health of their work/life balance. Additionally, employees feel that they have bargaining power because they feel safe in their job position.
A change to the physical office space
Before engaging in any talks surrounding a return to the office, employers must understand that after three years of remote and hybrid work, what the physical office space represents has completely changed.
Prior to the pandemic, the office was a space for providing a disconnect from other avenues of life. It was a place to get tasks done in an efficient manner where other employees could be reached easily and productivity was emphasized.
However, remote work has proven to be just as productive as (and oftentimes more so than) physical work and with the surplus of collaborative and productivity tools available to companies and their employees, the physical office has become a behemoth that seems to exist only in the memories of the average employee. By and large, there is no longer belief in its necessity.
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How to handle the situation
While some employers might think that employees must be let go if they don’t want to return to the office, there are many more steps to take before considering such drastic measures.
1. Determine whether or not their concerns are valid according to the specific company’s values and ethics
Employees’ reasons for not wanting to return to the office cover a wide range of areas: missing out on family meals, lunchtime walks, safety from workplace microaggressions. In order to prepare their best approach to convincing employees, employers must understand what exactly each reluctant employee’s concerns are.
The best way to collect this data would be through a survey where employees feel that they are safe to voice their concerns. From here, employers might deliberate on the validity of concerns according to any number of factors such as workplace ethics, office culture, company values, and corporate style.
2. Recognize and address their fears or grievances honestly
Equipped with this knowledge, employers can better understand how to handle their employees’ specific fears. If an employee is concerned about a dysfunctional workplace environment, then bringing a significant number of employees back might be a bad decision. If an employee is worried about contracting COVID, the employer might check in with government guidelines and do everything in their power to ensure that the office space was as safe as possible.
Whatever the case, the key part of this process is clear and honest communication on what the employer can and will do for the employee. It’s equally important that the employer follows through with what they promise.
Keeping the conversation going with employees before and during the return to the office means that they feel that they are a part of the company – the employees are involved in the process and know that they and their input are valued.
3. Communicate clearly the reasoning behind the return to the office
Employers must recognize that their workers’ mental, emotional, and physical health matters. In some cases, a return to the office will negatively impact one or a combination of these.
Additionally, remote or hybrid working is simply the generally-accepted norm now. Many don’t consider it a perk, but a necessity.
Without solid reason, forcing workers to return to the office often comes across as a company completely neglecting what the best work environment for their individual workers (and by extension, their clients) might be.
4. Ensure that the in-office experience matters to prove its validity to employees
Above all, employers must ensure that the return to the office makes excellent use of their employees’ time. They should take the utmost care to show in every way possible that their employees that their move back to the office is valid beyond a shadow of a doubt.
This involves practically applying the organizational culture, specific workplace benefits, and employee interactions to the in-office experience. This culminates in a workplace value that employees will experience rather than be told about.
Convincing employees to make a return to the workplace can take planning and effort, but if a company truly needs to make it happen, it’s far from impossible. With some care and communication, employers can make the transition back into the office a smooth, pleasant, and safe one for all of those involved.