It was National Employee Appreciation Day last month, but you can’t tell. While individuals are increasingly seeking a better balance in their work, companies are pushing back. Despite the fact things changed permanently after March of 2020, many corporations haven’t recognized this reality. All that wonderful talk about taking care of people has been replaced by petulant high-level executives jonesing for in-office control of their entire workforce. It says very clearly you only wanted to look good for COVID, but we are going back to the beatings will now continue until morale improves.
Companies are doing three things that are problematic: 1) demanding all workers come back to the office, 2) expecting all workers to continue to work remotely, or 3) compelling employees to work in a hybrid-only environment. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work anymore for business needs or for their staff. In particular, the many corporations that feel the need to coerce people into the office who are doing great work remotely or hybrid are doing so FOR CONTROL, control of workers they can creepily watch over or control for worker attrition.
Please call this what it is – voluntary attrition. You don’t want to pay severance, and you don’t’ want to look bad in the news by doing layoffs, so instead, frustrate and disgust your employees. That’s always a good look!
Unfortunately, the people they lose are many of their BEST WORKERS. Companies should know that arbitrarily telling people to come back to the office, no matter how many days a week, when you struggle to find talent, and hire other positions, including fully remote, typically at a higher rate of pay, smacks of discrimination. Constant emails preaching to the lowest common denominator to “come in, or else” is also a type of harassment. If most of your workforce is already adhering to your new policies, talk to those not observing the policy, don’t email-scream it at everyone. This practice is resulting in lawsuits throughout the country of unfair hiring practices, pay practices, and employee inequity.
IN-OFFICE HAS ITS MERITS, FOR MANY
Don’t think I am unsympathetic to corporate. Far from it, as I was formerly in HR. There are many workers who really need to come into the office. For these workers, their productivity has deteriorated over the last three years, and they have an entitlement mentality about working from home. Tracking metrics prove it, and often their attitude. There are also employees who want to be in the office, are stuck at home, and hate it. Why must we classify every employee, or every employee within a random mileage zone, the same? Organizations shouldn’t lump everyone into the same category. This is a HUGE MISTAKE.
We should implore businesses to leave the employee alone if they want to work from home and their performance merits it. This action should be combined with a policy recognizing there are: 1) employees that must be in the office in order to function at their peak (their substandard performance warrants this), 2) those that want to be in the office due to distractions at home as many of my clients couldn’t wait to get back in the office, and 3) numerous that like a hybrid work environment for the flexibility.
WAKE UP, IT’S NO LONGER 2018!
Even back in 2010 I had plenty of clients at multiple levels in their career that worked from home for various sized organizations. It is now 2023, and post-COVID. According to an INC. article from 03/31/23, only 76% of companies had all full-time office employees before the pandemic. Trying to go back to the “prior way of doing things” also speaks of organizations wanting the supposedly golden days of yore. Well, those days are gone. Having the flexibility of offering workers three choices – in-office, hybrid, or fully remote, shows a forward-thinking company that values its employees and wants to grow.
It’s not about asking an employee to come to the office once a month or once a quarter for a meeting, or a retirement party. No, this is the slow trickle that increases to a raging river of full-time in-the-office work for all employees. You won’t invest in proper onboarding and ongoing quality training for your people, to develop them for the position they were hired for, or the next role or level, but their mere presence in a building is magic.
A BUILDING IS NOT YOUR WORKFORCE
Viewing your people as the living breathing aspect of your organization is again replaced with a building being the company. Similar to a church/synagogue/mosque being destroyed by a tornado, it’s the people that make an organization, who carry on the work, not a building, no matter the sentimental value. Your buildings, artwork, fancy fish tanks, nice architecture, marble staircases, live plants, foosball tables, or even just a rented building are not your company – your people are the company! Buildings don’t do work, they can’t manufacture, sell clients, streamline processes, automate, or manage a set of robots helping people perform their tasks – but people do!
Look at the big names currently forcing people back into the office, and those that brag of its worthiness. Meanwhile they have sold half their office buildings, lack proper space, force employees to work from laptops in the office, and never from the same place twice. This leaves employees feeling like they are no longer humans, but merely “resources” you can take advantage of at will. Workers are on desks and tables that aren’t cleaned properly, and in such close proximity due to lack of space, supposedly “dedicated” employees that come in sick infect 10 people around them with just a sneeze, mask or no mask.
Despite countless offices being full up with hybrid staffing, hubristic executives sitting in their fancy closed-door offices (or at home) increase the days required, stuffing more sausage into an already overstuffed casing. Staff become merely numbers, and nothing more.
EMPLOYEE TRACKING A LA “1984”
Here comes the increase in employee tracking – how very Orwellian. Instead of going after those who try to cheat your system, you make sweeping declarations and send out nasty little emails and MS Teams messaging. These emails and messages WARN everyone that non-adherence will result in the loss of everything from vacation, bonuses, annual performance merit, or paid parking. What’s next, you take away health benefits?
Want the good old days, I hate to break it to you “that is a product of poor memory and a vivid imagination,” to rephrase an old quote. The seven last words of any organization are “but we’ve always done it this way,” and it is a clarion death knell. Seeking to recapture the glory of employees hurriedly bustling about a full office? Let’s do that with employees that want to be in your office! Despite what pundits say, there are many who want this option.
Let’s stop forcing hybrid work environments, where we play “whack a mole” with the desks and tables people use each time they walk in the door. Having them “sign-up” for desks, like someone getting in line with their pull ticket at the DMV. Give them their own personal space! And let’s respect those who perform at a high level from home, and want to stay at home, continue to do the good work they do for your company, remotely.
A DANGEROUS GAME
Persisting in playing games with people will only result in one thing – fewer quality employees for your organization. A problem that already exists, and you will be amplifying. One of the large organizations currently in the news for forcing people back to the office was already experiencing this prior to COVID, and has been for some time. Those of us in the careers industry no longer recommended them to our clients as a prime workplace, merely as a stop-gap job or “nice company name” on their resume. Another just featured in the news, reclassified all its remote employees within a subjective mile radius, to hybrid. Now, more companies are following suit. Several more have announced layoffs while reporting large gains in clients, revenue, and profit, all to line the pockets of their executives and boards. You only care about this quarter’s numbers and ignore the long-term ramifications of losing your most talented employees. Those ramifications will come back to haunt you.
I am now advising all clients that receive an offer that states hybrid or remote work environment, to get a “guarantee” in the client contract that both parties must agree to for that status to change. Some companies are stepping up and doing this and benefiting themselves and their employees.
Instead of being companies of choice, the shortsighted, like all the others playing this ridiculous game, will reap a “reward” of lesser quality candidates applying for their jobs, while blaming it on the labor shortage. Even a New York times article from March 2nd of this year called you out saying this is a “phase of trial and error that comes with staggering stakes,” and I would say ultimately a “hit” to your bottom line. I am a staunch capitalist writing this article, I believe in Corporate America and the good it can do. However, I am here to inform you that your organization isn’t that remarkable, and your arrogance after what took place in the last three years is alarming. Does this hit too close to home – pull up your big-person pants buttercup, it is about to be a bumpy ride! You have no one to blame but yourselves.