The headlines are startling:
People may quit if forced to work from home, Rishi Sunak warns – BBC
1 in 4 workers are considering quitting their jobs after the pandemic – CNBC
New research finds half of workers could quit jobs if businesses ignore employee work from home preferences – HR News
1 in 3 employees will quit “if WFH ends,” according to a new survey – TechRepublic
Multiple surveys taken over the first quarter of 2021 indicate that between a quarter and half of employees currently working from home like their arrangement so much that they’d quit their current jobs if forced to go back to the office full time. And looking at the rebounding jobs market, it looks like there will be no shortage of jobs from which they will be able to choose if their employers are willing to allow them flexibility in when and where they work.
However, many of the same surveys also suggest a growing disconnect between employees’ wishes and their employers’ plans.
According to an HR News article about employee work from home preferences, a nation-wide study of employees who were working from home during the UK’s third national lockdown found that two-thirds of workers (64%) want to switch to hybrid working – a combination of home and office working – when safe to do so. However, only one in ten (11%) believed that their bosses will give them that choice, less than half (44%) think their employer will choose a form of hybrid working.
Employers need to understand what their employees are thinking to prevent a mass exit and better prepare for the future of work after COVID-19. (As always, we recommend asking them.) However, it’s also important to consider the primary drivers behind the sentiments revealed in these surveys. Here’s what employees value about working from home.
They love the flexibility remote work offers
“I love working from home. I’m never going back to the office again,” a former coworker told me when I congratulated her on her new role – which, as it turns out is a fully remote position for a company that’s headquartered across the country. The company where we met was taking the opposite approach: starting this summer, everyone is expected back in the office. For my colleague, the mother of a teenage boy, the ability to be around after school, as well as the flexibility working from home offers her, trumped the benefits offered by her former employer – including the stock options she left on the table.
“Workers who want to quit overwhelmingly say they’re looking for a new job with more flexibility. Indeed, even among those who aren’t considering changing jobs, half of the people currently working remotely say if their current company doesn’t continue to offer remote-work options long-term, they’ll look for a job at a company that does.” writes CNBC “Make It” reporter Jennifer Liu in a recent article about the reasons why people are considering switching jobs.
They hate open office plans
The company’s office space is a contributing factor for many employees, who have spent the last year creating idea workspaces at home.
“If companies were truly diligent about making office spaces functional and efficient, I have no problem with them wanting teams in the office,” said an employee quoted in a recent TechRepublic article, “1 in 3 employees will quit “if WFH ends,” by R. Dallon Adams.
“However, I don’t know of a single company that doesn’t pack engineers cheek to jowl like cattle, while making unintelligent noises about ‘collaboration’,” the employee continued. “Meantime the engineers put on earphones and Slack and Zoom each other from across the aisle.”
This should not be a surprise – rafts of pre-pandemic studies showed that open office plans are bad for workers, reducing productivity, making deep work difficult due to distractions, reducing face-to-face interactions, and even contributing to anxiety and harassment.
They are saving time and money by not commuting
While much has been written about the time savings people are enjoying by not commuting, for many, skipping the trip to work also nets material savings.
The authors of an article in HR News highlighted these savings.
“ Pre-pandemic, office workers were spending an average of £105.67 each month on commuting to work. Over 12 months, that amounts to more than 5% of the average (after-tax) salary: £30,420. As a result, office workers have saved an average of £1,268 whilst working from home between March 2020 and February 2021.”
[In the Chicago suburbs, home of this humble writer, a train pass and station parking tally almost $300 each month. Between the $3,600 financial savings and more than 400 hours in time on a train returned to more productive use, readers can count me firmly in this particular camp.]
They’re achieving a better overall balance in their lives
Over the last year of working from home, many have found a better balance in their lives. Working from home enables them to exercise more frequently, attend to household chores during a break, have better meals, and, in general, take a step back from the harried pace of their pre-pandemic days.
“I’ve already kind of let it be known that I do not have any intention of returning to the office full time — because now, from a professional standpoint, we know that this model works,” says Angele Russell of Moseley, Va., in a Washington Post article titled “The pandemic gave parents the chance to work from home. Now they don’t want to give it up.” “There’s just zero benefit in my mind now to return back into the office and give up all of those things that we gained over the past year.”
The article goes on to describe that how, for Russell, “all of those things” include the ability to hop on an exercise bike after a tough meeting, keeping the laundry from piling up, and not having “traffic-fueled panic attacks while racing to make sure her kid isn’t the last one to be picked up from aftercare.”
Leaders need to close the gap
This is exactly the misalignment we warned about at the beginning of this year in our “New Threats to Company Culture” white paper — and it’s getting more serious.
The remedy is simple – ask employees how they’re doing. If you’ve not fielded an employee engagement survey recently, now would be a good time. And if you have, but would like a better understanding of how the pandemic has affected your team, we have short, purpose-built surveys to assess culture and mental health that are especially useful right now.