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Return to work

Most HR professionals say the Return to the Office is creating a retention problem

Survey highlights retention challenges as employees struggle with return-to-office mandates.

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54% of HR professionals consider it a “minor problem”.
Hybrid and remote workers are less interested in incentives like social events and COVID-19 safety.
Employees without return-to-office plans are steadfast in their commitment to home offices.

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Compelling employees desiring remote work to return to the office is causing retention challenges, as indicated by a survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago late last year. The results, recently disclosed, reveal that 54% of HR professionals consider it a “minor problem,” while 19% categorize it as a “major problem.” Only a quarter view it as a non-issue.

Simultaneously, NORC released findings from an employee survey, disclosing that hybrid and remote workers are less interested in incentives like social events and COVID-19 safety protocols. Instead, they express greater satisfaction and willingness to work in person if offered higher compensation. Commuter benefits also proved to be a popular incentive.

While HR respondents acknowledge widespread discontent or neutrality among workers regarding return-to-office policies, only 13% reported their companies introducing new policies or incentives to facilitate the transition. Among this group, a mere 4% indicated a shift towards higher pay for in-office work, making it one of the least-adopted policies.

Reflecting a common challenge for HR professionals, the NORC surveys underscore the department’s close connection to employee sentiment but reveal limitations in influencing company decision-making. Despite recognizing the challenges imposed by mandatory return-to-office policies, less than half of the respondents stated that their HR departments formulated these policies.

The dissatisfaction stemming from return-to-office policies appears to contribute to a broader decline in employee satisfaction.

This discontent with return-to-office policies is not unique to NORC’s findings; an Owl Labs survey in June showed that only around 20% of employees prefer working in the office full time, yet two-thirds are compelled to do so.

Meanwhile, employees without return-to-office plans are steadfast in their commitment to home offices. Almost half of respondents in an Integrated Benefits Institute survey from August stated they would consider quitting if forced to return to the office full time. With the push for return-to-office growing, the future may reveal whether employers challenge employees’ resolve, workplaces ease demands, or a wave of resignations follows.

BambooHR recently found a decline since 2020, with the steepest drop occurring between 2022 and 2023. This aligns with a decrease in investment in employee experience, according to Forrester.

Employees assert that more cash, whether as an incentive for in-person work or as a means of fulfillment, would enhance their happiness. The positive news for them is that employers appear to be adapting to the trend of higher median raises observed in recent years.

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