Working in person isn’t worth the commute, employees say

As organizations continue to shift their pandemic-era workplace policies, many employees don’t see the point in going to the office for work, according to a March 9 report from Executive Networks.

In a global survey of 1,300 people, only 28% of knowledge workers said their company is making it worthwhile to commute. Another 46% said their company isn’t doing anything to make it appealing to return to the workplace.

At the same time, about half of workers said being in the office is beneficial for career advancement. In addition, a majority of leaders — including 71% of senior HR leaders and 62% of senior business leaders — acknowledged that there’s likely a “proximity bias” against remote or hybrid workers, which can make it difficult for them to get ahead.

“Companies are offering more perks and increasing compensation to entice workers back to the office. But they need to make coming to the office more purposeful and ‘commute worthy,’” Jeanne Meister, an executive vice president at Executive Networks, said in a statement.

“This will require employers to be clear on why and how working in the office can optimize collaboration and innovation,” she said. “Employers also need to provide equal opportunity for advancement and development, no matter where the work gets done.”

Many employees voiced support for flexible arrangements, with the most desirable option being a four-day or 32-hour workweek without a reduction in pay. About 69% of knowledge workers and 56% of front-line workers said they wanted this type of arrangement, which is currently offered to about 16% of knowledge workers and 29% of front-line workers, the survey found.

Several other key areas rose to the top as priorities for 2023, such as skill-building, addressing well-being and mental health, and focusing on talent attraction and retention.

Upskilling, in particular, was seen as the most critical aspect of organizational success this year. About 83% of HR leaders and 79% of business leaders said skills-based training should be used as a retention tool. In addition, 45% of knowledge workers and 30% of front-line workers said people are leaving their company due to insufficient career advancement or development opportunities.

Upskilling could be one way to encourage employees to return to workplaces for on-site work. More than half of front-line workers said they wanted in-person training with subject matter experts, and knowledge workers said they’d like access to coaches and online courses.

Surveys released in 2022 found that different development programs — such as reskilling and cross-skilling — could lead to retention and internal mobility. These initiatives could also boost well-being and reduce burnout, which the Executive Networks survey identified as a major factor for employees leaving their positions.

“Stress and burnout have long been documented as a reason employees leave their jobs, but the lack of opportunity to learn new things and grow in their careers is also a primary driver of employees wanting to make a change,” Rita Vanhauwenhuyse, vice president of customer experience and insights in Europe for Executive Networks, said in the statement.

Importantly, workplace policies and flexible arrangements should be navigated with employee needs and unique organizational factors in mind. While a study from early 2022 found that Generation Z workers are more likely to report stifled career growth due to a lack of on-site work experience, another report later in the year noted that employees with remote and hybrid schedules may feel more psychological safety and more ease in discussing difficult situations with colleagues.

Even still, hybrid is here to stay, and companies and workers are still learning how to succeed with new ways of working and learning, the Executive Networks report concluded.

“From adding creative benefits and being more intentional about designing a workplace that attracts employees to better equipping workers and managers for flexible working, organizations can gain a competitive advantage in this new world of work,” the report authors wrote.

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