With major employers like Disney, Starbucks, Twitter, and KPMG withdrawing flexible working policies and mandating more days in the office, employees are probably asking themselves if the days of hybrid working might be coming to a close.
What employers and employees want seems to be at odds. As many companies mandate a return to the office, perhaps in a bid to boost morale, improve culture or encourage greater productivity, they may be inadvertently achieving the very opposite.
Recent figures from talent platform Beamery’s 7th Talent Index indicate that the era of flexible working might be drawing to an end. The survey, which explored the experiences of 2,500 office workers in the UK, revealed that 37% of the workforce is now being mandated to work in the office full-time.
This is a significant shift – and particularly striking as we mark three years on from the Covid-19 mandated ‘work from home’ orders.
And as it appears, this shift is not particularly welcome. According to the survey data, over half of the workers (53%) Beamery spoke to consider work-life balance one of the most important factors in choosing who they work for, and 28% say being trusted with the choice to work from home is important to them.
Understanding what employees value is key when outlining workplace strategies. Are people more productive under a flexible working policy? Does their wellbeing improve? If you are looking to engage and retain your workforce in a challenging economic climate, understanding where they do their best work is a clear first step.
Yet this does not seem to be happening. Despite the majority of workers wanting a better work-life balance, 58% of UK office workers are working in the office full time, and 37% are now being mandated to work on-site every day. Even in hybrid work settings, a third of UK employees say they feel “pressure” from their employers to come into the office more often.
Addressing differences in what employers and employees want is crucial to ensuring retention – particularly given 52% of employees said they already were, or considered, leaving their job in the next 12 months – and driving meaningful engagement in the workplace. If there is a strong case for making people work full-time in the office, it is crucial that workers at least feel satisfied and incentivised in their working environment.
One way to do this could be to invest in developing new skills and training, as 58% of employees said they are currently in the process of learning, or want to learn, new skills in their existing workplace. By listening to their teams – putting in place measures to harness their employees’ clear determination to upskill or improve their expertise – employers may well see a more productive and engaged team – regardless of location.
When it comes to flexible working, perhaps employers will also acknowledge that this policy is ultimately a cheap way to retain workers, especially in the current difficult economic environment. It may be an uphill battle to convince employees – many of whom have become accustomed to the flexibility that the hybrid model offers – to return to the office full time. Perhaps they might recognise that many employees could naturally gravitate to more regular office days, but on their own time and when it feels right for them.
Fundamentally, people are at the core of a successful business. Rather than going around in circles about the pros and cons of hybrid working, business leaders should instead focus on how their employees can grow, be productive, feel fulfilled, and contribute to the company. That is how you can build a truly engaged workforce – wherever they happen to be.