As companies across industries navigate the ongoing pandemic and its effects on the workforce, one key question has emerged: should employees be forced to return to the office, even if they are able to work remotely? A part of the answer comes from a recent Gallup survey, which found that remote-capable employees who are forced to come to the office have been experiencing a significant decline in engagement. Gallup’s research revealed that this group experienced the largest drop in employee engagement of all groups surveyed on the question of work location; it had a five-point decrease in engagement and a seven-point increase in active disengagement from 2019 through 2022.
Forced office attendance has been a prevalent issue for many companies, and its impact on employee engagement should not be taken lightly. A disengaged workforce can have a detrimental effect on a company’s bottom line, including decreased productivity, higher absenteeism, and increased turnover. As a highly experienced expert in employee engagement and workplace productivity in hybrid work, I have seen first hand the negative impact that forcing employees to come to the office even if they are able to work remotely can have on engagement and overall job satisfaction. Leaders of companies need to understand the implications of this trend and take steps to address it in order to maintain a productive and motivated workforce.
Decreased Flexibility and Autonomy
One of the major benefits of remote work is the increased flexibility and autonomy it provides. When employees are forced back into the office, they may feel like they are losing the control they had over their schedules and work environment. This can lead to increased stress, burnout, and decreased motivation.
For example, a mid-size marketing company found that forcing employees back into the office after a year of remote work led to a 25% drop in employee engagement and a 20% decrease in productivity. The employees reported feeling less motivated and less in control of their work, leading to a decrease in job satisfaction and overall morale. Once this company brought me on as a consultant, we adopted a more flexible hybrid work policy, which reversed these losses.
Decreased Work-Life Balance
In addition to decreased flexibility and autonomy, forcing employees back into the office can also disrupt their work-life balance. For many employees, remote work has allowed them to balance their personal and professional lives in a way that works for them. However, returning to the office can lead to longer commutes, increased costs, and less time with family and friends. This can lead to increased stress, burnout, and decreased overall satisfaction with their jobs.
For example, a large financial services company found that after forcing employees back into the office, they experienced a 30% increase in employee turnover. The employees reported feeling like they had lost the work-life balance they had achieved while working remotely, leading to increased stress and decreased job satisfaction.
Decreased Collaboration and Communication
Remote work can also lead to decreased collaboration and communication among team members. When employees are forced back into the office, they may feel like they are missing out on the informal conversations and interactions that are key to building strong working relationships. This can lead to decreased collaboration, decreased creativity, and decreased overall job satisfaction.
For example, a mid-size IT company found that after forcing employees back into the office, they experienced a 20% decrease in team collaboration and a 15% decrease in creativity. The employees reported feeling like they were missing out on the informal conversations and interactions that are key to building strong working relationships, leading to decreased overall job satisfaction.
Impact of Cognitive Biases
Cognitive biases can also play a role in the negative impact of forced office attendance on employee engagement. In particular, the biases of status quo bias, anchoring bias, and loss aversion can all contribute to the negative effects of forced office attendance.
Status quo bias refers to the tendency to stick with the status quo, even if it is not the best option. In this case, leaders may be biased towards requiring employees to come into the office, even if remote work is a better option for their employees and their business.
Anchoring bias refers to the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered when making decisions. In this case, leaders may be anchored to the idea that employees need to be in the office in order to be productive, even if there is evidence to the contrary.
Loss aversion refers to the tendency to prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains. In this case, leaders may be reluctant to give up the perceived benefits of in-person collaboration and may be more focused on avoiding the perceived risks of remote work.
The negative impacts of forcing employees back into the office are clear and significant. From decreased flexibility and autonomy, to decreased work-life balance, to decreased collaboration and communication, forcing employees back into the office can lead to decreased employee engagement, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. As leaders, it’s important to understand these impacts and prioritize the well-being and satisfaction of our employees. By providing flexible work options, we can help our employees thrive both personally and professionally.
Forcing remote-capable employees back to the office can cause a significant decline in engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction, emphasizing the need for flexible work options to support a motivated and satisfied workforce… >Click to tweet
Image Credits: Christina Morillo
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at https://disasteravoidanceexperts.com/newsletter/.