The back-to-office backfire: Companies ending WFH perks lose out on top talent, who view flexible work as equivalent to an 8% raise

  • The coronavirus pandemic upended the work world and accelerated the pro-labor movement.
  • As workplaces continue bringing employees back to the office, hybrid employers have an advantage.
  • Employees see flexible workplaces as an equivalent benefit to an 8% raise, WSJ reported.

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Forcing workers back to the office is slowly backfiring for employers as the tightening labor market increasingly values remote work as a key benefit.

While major companies such as Amazon, Disney, JPMorgan, and even the video conferencing platform Zoom require their workers to return to the office at least part-time after the coronavirus pandemic prompted widespread adoption of work-from-home policies, employees are none too pleased.

Since COVID-19 deaths and illnesses have reduced the American workforce by approximately 500,000, The Guardian reported, and the unemployment rate nears half-century record lows of 3.5%, according to July statistics from the Labor Department, workers have the upper hand in labor negotiations. 

In some cases, employer pressure to return to in-person work results in employee efforts to unionize or strike over the rollback in benefits, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

There have been widespread strikes across industries — including the Writer’s and Screen Actors Guilds, Amazon warehouse and delivery workers, Starbucks employees, and digital media publications, including Insider.

Insider previously reported work stoppages seen have the highest level of public support since 1965.

Some employees, like an Arizona administrator making six figures, have quit altogether when called back to the office, Insider previously reported.

Employers that insist upon bringing employees back to in-person work are seeing slower hiring rates, The Wall Street Journal reported — with companies that have full-time remote work seeing a 5% increase in their staffing levels over the last year, compared to just 2.6% for full-time in-person offices.

Workers today put an increasing value in a flexible workplace and view hybrid work accommodations as equal to an 8% pay increase, Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor, told WSJ. And ensuring employees have a reasonable work-life balance leads to greater worker retention, increased performance, and better customer satisfaction, the outlet reported.

Research by Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School and remote work expert, found that employees who worked from home 75% of the time were the most productive, Insider previously reported.

“When you allow flexibility, it expands your talent pool,” Choudhury said, adding: “Whether the economy is contracting or expanding, the best workers always have outside options. And so I think if you as a company have a model that doesn’t give the best employees flexibility some of them — not every one of them, but some of them — will be poached by competitors.” 

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Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert