If you’ve been out and about, you’ll see “We’re Hiring” signs virtually everywhere. In the media, you’ll hear stories of increased employee turnover, and that employees are fleeing their workplaces. It seems these two data points would align – those fleeing would be filling the roles of those hiring, but that does not seem to be the case. Some argue that stimulus money is the culprit. Others argue that employers’ demands to return to the office create resentment among employees who feel they’ve successfully performed at home and undermine ongoing concerns about COVID-19.
Consider both the Employee and Employer Points of View
The consistent theme for employee turnover is that the pandemic forced significant changes in the workplace, and employees are not as accepting of a shift back to “normal.” I watched the comments populate on one of my friend’s Facebook posts about employers requiring employees to return to the office. The comments highlighted the employees’ perspective that the employer didn’t understand how productive the employees have been at home and instead wanted to “micromanage” them. The employer further didn’t understand or empathize with how work from home benefitted the employees, specifically the time saved from commuting and the cost-saving from commuting, work clothing, and childcare costs. The individuals on the thread were adamantly against going back to the office and blamed the employer for requiring them to do so. The expectation of their role when they joined the company was to be in the office every day. That fact didn’t come up in the discussion, nor did any benefit of togetherness or collaboration in the workplace. This signals a clear disconnect and a communication breakdown between leadership and their staff.
Allow for a Hybrid Workplace to Help Decrease Employee Turnover
As an employer and as counsel for many employers, my reaction was immediately defensive – we employers have good reasons for wanting employees back in the office! I am nostalgic for the workplace community, the “pop into a colleague’s office” for a quick question or a spontaneous story of a funny thing that happened. Through these interpersonal engagements, we learn more from one another and about one another; I see how these experiences tighten the ties of our team to one another. Is being in the office 100% of the time necessary for this connection to occur? No. We have always had a flexible work schedule where team members can work different hours and commute at different times to avoid traffic and work from home multiple days per week. However, I believe that those who opt not to come in at all are missing out and less connected to the firm and the team. That’s my perspective as an employer – and with that perspective, I have asked that each team member be in the office one day per week, and everyone is required to attend our monthly Team Meeting.
But this decision was not made in a vacuum-based solely on my preferences. We made the formal “return to the office” plan after asking everyone their preferences and thinking through office procedures and dependencies. It was important to acknowledge that we didn’t need an office for anything (as evidenced by the last year). I realize I have a small team, so it may be easier to get consensus, and our work can be easily performed remotely. Each business is unique, and the critical success factors for that business will drive how this decision is made.
Justify the “Why” When Launching Change Efforts
Objections I read on that Facebook post suggested that the employer’s leadership made a unilateral decision to force employees back to the office, maybe without providing any context for the decision to the team. This notion brings to light a good example of needing a communication strategy ahead of time when launching a change campaign within your company. How are you spreading your message to employees, and how is the message appealing to their needs and interests? Employers must acknowledge that employees have been under immense stress during the pandemic, and their view of work and the workplace has changed. Most employees are not engaged in their work, and according to a Gallup poll in March 2021, 74% of employees who are actively disengaged in their work are seeking new employment opportunities, leading to increased employee turnover.
Make Sure Your Total Rewards Offerings Promote Employee Retention
For employers to successfully retain their best and brightest, they must proactively engage them through growth and professional development, wellness, and other initiatives that demonstrate the employer’s care for the employee and their future with the company. Decisions that unilaterally change an employee’s lifestyle or don’t offer them a choice will not garner respect or loyalty. We see this pushback in all “mandates,” whether about returning to the office, hours, masks, or vaccines. Solicit feedback from your employees, hear their take on the matter before launching a “back to office” change so that you can better address their concerns. The tide has turned in favor of employees, and leaders must operate in a more collaborative way to satisfy workers’ needs, not just financially but also emotionally. These efforts will help leaders decrease employee turnover in their workplace.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general information. Do not view this article as legal advice. Talk with counsel familiar with your unique business needs before taking or refraining from any action.