Employers and employees at odds when it comes to the office

by Millie Costigan
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Returning for good

A new report has found a disconnect between employers and employees when it comes to working conditions.

As companies across the globe – including Apple, Disney, Google, and Commonwealth Bank – increase the push for employees to return to the office, many employers do not understand what is influencing a reluctance to end hybrid work conditions.

A new report commissioned by Unispace called ‘Returning for Good’ highlights findings from over 16,000 employees and employers across 17 countries. The report considers the legacy of pandemic-driven fully remote working and how the office landscape is adapting to the changing needs of employees, while increasing productivity and maintaining wellbeing.

Employers fail to recognise employee needs

The report found that employers are underestimating employee dislikes about in-person work, and that disconnect could be influencing a reluctance to return to the office.

When employers were asked what they believe their people dislike about the office, the commute ranked highly, with 21 percent indicating that they believed staff wanted to gain back time spent travelling, while 20 percent suggested employees simply do not want to commute.  

In reality, employees expressed that what they disliked about the office was losing the privacy of working from home because many feel more efficient and productive in a quiet remote space.

Interestingly, what employees value in the office and how they use the space varies by age, gender and business function, with younger cohorts (18-34) enjoying opportunities to socialise with colleagues after work more than older groups of colleagues. The report also found women were more likely to enjoy socialisation aspects of the office than men.

Mandating return could backfire

Almost half of firms who mandated returns have experienced higher than normal employee attrition, with 29 percent now struggling to recruit.

The data suggests office mandates could harm recruitment as well as retention of staff.

Feelings of employee satisfaction were high across the spectrum, but suffered a drop when companies mandated office returns, suggesting staff are more receptive to returning to the office when it is a choice, rather than forced.

Unispace Global CEO Steve Quick says work habits are rapidly changing and businesses need to embrace this.

“Employers who take the time to understand what their employees need and value most from their office will be more successful in redefining the power and purpose of that workspace,” he says.

With around 59 percent of the workforce stating they are experiencing burnout, wellbeing is an urgent priority for companies rethinking working conditions.

Employees value personal space

When it came to strategies to encourage employees to return to the office, hot-desking was identified as a practice that could change.

Hot-desking is currently the main set up for just under half of workers surveyed, but many indicated that having an assigned desk would entice them into the workplace more often. The report cites the example of New Zealand, where 90 percent of workers say they would be more inclined to work in the office more often if they had an assigned desk. Similar findings were reported in Belgium, France, Italy and Ireland.

Having a guaranteed individual work space could therefore motivate office returns, because employees value personal space.

Work from home could hamper career progression

A significant majority of employers (84 percent) indicated that the chance to progress in their role will be limited for those employees who are not in the office. In contrast, only 67 percent of employees believed this to be true, signalling another disconnect in priorities in the workplace.

But more than half of office workers surveyed were still reluctant to return to the office.

Marco Brucato, eCommerce lead at The Kraft Heinz Company says reasons for whether or not employees want to be in the office varied.

“When and how often our people come into the office is driven by a range of elements, from their own agenda on any given day, their home working conditions, who else is in and much more,” he says in the report.

“But what we’ve found is that giving staff that flexibility to choose is what is driving returns more naturally.”

The Returning for Good report can be accessed here.

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