Being forced back into the office is the definition of insanity (2023)

In a world where we've seen five straight quarters of falling U.S. productivity, according to ato readby EY-Parthenon using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you'd think CEOs and company leaders would question their tactics. After all, more than two-thirds of business leaders report that they are under tremendous pressure to extract more productivity from their employees, according to a study.novoRelaxed research with 18,000 knowledge workers.

still despiteirrefutable evidencewhatflexible hybrid workis more productive than forced office work for the same jobs, top executives stubbornly herd employees back to the office like lost sheep, hoping productivity will miraculously improve. That, my friends, is the very definition of insanity.

The myth of the magic office

Many CEOs cling to the false belief that the desk is the key to productivity. It's like they think the office is a productivity vending machine: bring in employees, get more output. But the data tells a different story.

Instead of being a productivity wonderland, the office is more like a productivity black hole, where collaboration, socialization, coaching and on-the-job training thrive, but focused work drifts into oblivion. In fact, research shows that the office is detrimental to productivity.

For example, a recent oneto readby researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Harvard University, and the University of Iowa found that software engineers who were in different buildings on the same campus wrote more computer programs than those who sat next to their colleagues. However, engineers working in different buildings were less likely to comment on each other's code. In other words, they were more productive, but this meant that less experienced coders received weaker guidance.

Simply put, expecting the office to increase productivity is like expecting a fish to ride a bicycle: the office serves a different and very important purpose. EY-Parthenon research shows a direct correlation between the forced return to the office and a drop in productivity. The numbers don't lie. People are working longer hours and barely releasing more products. It's time to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Structured coaching can strike a balance between face-to-face and remote work

While productivity is hindered by being in the office, mentoring is enhanced. However, you need to be intentional about coaching. The unspoken belief in many organizations is that if you cram employees into an office like sardines, mentorship will magically happen. However, office coaching, especially full-time coaching, is often inconsistent, ineffective, and dependent on factors such as proximity, office politics, and personal dynamics, which can limit its reach and impact.

In contrast, a structured mentoring program offers a more deliberate and effective approach, matching mentors and mentees based on skills, interests and goals. This targeted method ensures that knowledge sharing and personal growth are not left to chance, but are nurtured and nurtured strategically.

Structured coaching programs can thrive in a hybrid environment that combines the best aspects of in-person and remote work. This balanced approach allows companies to limit office activities to required coaching sessions, maximizing productivity and employee satisfaction without sacrificing the benefits of face-to-face interactions.

To take advantage of in-person and remote work in a structured coaching program, companies can schedule targeted in-person sessions, use technology for remote coaching, set clear goals and expectations, encourage networking and collaboration, and monitor and evaluate progress.

The great irony of the desk-centric mindset is that it's not just productivity that suffers. employee engagement is also affected. Gallupto readfound that employees who could work remotely but had to go to the office suffered from a lack of autonomy, resulting in lower engagement. Research shows that employee engagement is lower for those who could work remotely but are forced to attend in person full-time.

Imagine the global impact of this problem: Gallup estimated that low employee engagement cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity last year. To put this into perspective, imagine any CEO taking a sledgehammer to their company's piggy bank, smashing it to pieces, and then wondering why profits are declining.

The hidden barriers to productivity

Our decision making is often influenced bycognitive biaseswhich can distort our perception and judgement, especially when it comes to adopting flexible working. By understanding the impact of theseprejudices, we can overcome the mental barriers that stand in the way of effective leadership and productivity.

Two specific cognitive biases play an important role in this forced march to the office: status quo bias and functional rigidity.

Status quo bias leads individuals to prefer the current situation and resist change, even when that change might lead to better outcomes. This could significantly impact the way CEOs and executives approach the idea of ​​flexible working, forcing them to cling to the traditional office-based work model.

Status quo bias can make it difficult for leaders to recognize the benefits of flexible work schedules and hybrid coaching programs, as they may subconsciously perceive these changes as threats to the established order. As a result, they may ignore the evidence supporting the effectiveness of remote work and structured coaching, choosing to remain in the familiar office environment.

Functional fixedness prevents people from seeing alternative uses or solutions to a given problem, as they are fixated on the traditional or familiar approach. Functional stability bias can cause leaders to remain entrenched in the belief that the office is the only suitable environment for productivity.

It's time for CEOs to leave the wreckage of forced office work and embrace the flexible working revolution. The office has its place for collaboration, coaching and training – but not for productivity.

Instead of forcing everyone into the same box, we'll tailor work arrangements to match individual roles and preferences. It's time to stop living in denial and face the truth: flexible hybrid work is the future and it's here to stay. Accepting this reality is the only way to reverse the downward spiral of productivity and unlock the true potential of the workforce.

The evidence is clear: the forced return to the office is not the solution to productivity problems, but the cause. As we've seen over the past five quarters, continuing to force employees back into the office is like banging your head against a brick wall and expecting a different result. It's time for CEOs to rethink their outdated assumptions and embrace the flexible work revolution.

Gleb Tsipursky, Ph.D. (aka "the office whisper") helps technology and finance executives drive collaboration, innovation and retention in the hybrid workplace. He serves as CEO of future job boutique consultantsDisaster Prevention Specialists. He is the best-selling author of seven books, includingNever go with your gutmTop hybrid and remote teams. His experience comes from more than 20 yearscounselingfor Fortune 500 companies fromAflacForphotocopymmore than 15 yearsin academia as a behavioral scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State.

The views expressed in comments are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or beliefs ofFortuna.

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Why are companies forcing employees back in the office? ›

A recent poll of more than 150 U.S. CEOs reveals a startling reason why many companies are enforcing a return to office. The study indicates that many organizations are struggling to foster strong communication, collaboration and team bonding in these environments.

Is working in the office more productive? ›

Several studies over the past few months show productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting. On average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.

Can you be fired for refusing to return to the office? ›

Generally, an employer has no obligation to retain an employee who refuses to return to the office. There are some instances, however, where firing an employee or denying further work-from-home arrangements may result in legal repercussions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

Can I refuse to work back in the office? ›

Generally, employees do not have the right to refuse to return to the office.” Employees with mental or physical impairments might be able to demand that their employers “engage in an interactive dialogue regarding reasonable accommodations,” Camacho Moran added.

Why is it better to work in the office than at home? ›

It's also easier for colleagues to communicate with each other, read moods and emotions, and bounce ideas off one another in a shared space. This creates an energy and a positive working atmosphere which can't be replicated remotely or through video calls, and is essential for the success of any team.

Are employees happier working from home? ›

Are Remote Workers Happier? A survey report conducted by Owl labs suggests remote workers are happier and stay in their jobs longer. They also found that workers who were working at home reported being happy 22% more than workers who always work in an onsite office environment.

Is working from home better for Mental Health? ›

In fact, employees who work remotely often say they're happier, more productive and more likely to stay with their employer. But new research shows there's at least one drawback to these arrangements: Remote and hybrid workers tend to experience higher rates of mental health issues.

How do you say no to returning to the office? ›

4 tips for telling your boss you don't want to return to the...
  1. Tailor your pitch to your boss. ...
  2. Establish psychological safety. ...
  3. Focus on the positives and outline the benefits to your boss. ...
  4. Be open to a creative compromise.
Oct 18, 2021

How do you resist return to office? ›

Here's how ...
  1. Be intentional. There should be a reason behind your hybrid policy and data to support it.
  2. Establish clear guidelines. If employees are expected to be in the office on specific days, spell it out and explain how these expectations will be enforced.
  3. Be transparent. ...
  4. Embrace it.
Sep 8, 2022

How to deal with employees who don t want to come back to the office? ›

What to Do If Your Team Doesn't Want to Go Back to the Office
  1. Focus on what your leaders care about. ...
  2. Determine if their concerns are personal. ...
  3. Highlight the engagement of all employees, wherever they're working. ...
  4. Emphasize habits that make things seem as normal as possible.
Jan 18, 2021

Can employers force you to come back to the office? ›

While you can be required to report to work, there are a few exceptions. However, before you tell your employer that you aren't returning to the office, consult a qualified attorney first.

What is quiet quitting job? ›

Quiet quitting is a softer approach than outright leaving a job. The term isn't literal but a play on words. Rather than workers quitting jobs, they are quitting the idea of going above and beyond. Unhappy with some aspect of their current company or role, they choose only to complete the bare minimum.

Can I say no to working in the office? ›

Explain why

You're saying no because you have a real reason for it, and sharing that helps build trust between you and any other parties involved. If you're responding to a manager, be specific about what's currently on your plate. Sometimes, that's enough to help them understand why you can't say yes to their ask.

Why we should keep working from home? ›

Add in the lack of a commute, and remote workers typically have more time and fewer distractions, which leads to increased productivity—a huge benefit of working from home for both employees and employers alike. When done right, remote work allows employees and companies to focus on what really matters—performance.

Why working from home is more stressful? ›

Challenges facing professionals working from home include reliance on technologies, like teleconferencing and Zoom. In addition to the stress some experience from having to learn new skills, the virtual communication reduces much-needed personal contact and can contribute to anxiety and depression.

Should I go into the office or work from home? ›

While work from home offers efficiency and avoids a long commute, office work provides a better environment for communication, collaboration and overall growth of one's career. Working from home presents us with the opportunity to have a balanced work-life while still being successful professionally.

Are people still working from home 2023? ›

Gartner estimates that by the end of 2023, 48% of knowledge workers around the world will work either fully remotely (9%) or in a hybrid arrangement (39%). In the US, fully remote and hybrid workers are expected to account for 71% of the workforce in 2023.

What are the odds of getting a job at 55? ›

Older workers may face age discrimination, the need to obtain new skills and experience through training, and more obstacles. Despite the challenges, your odds of getting a job at age 50-55 are greater than 50% within one year. Your job search may simply take longer than it would for candidates below 50.

What percentage of Americans work from home 2023? ›

27% of U.S. employees work remotely, as of 2023. There are expected to be 36.2 million American employees working remotely by 2025. 40% of workers believe that they've been more productive while working at home during the pandemic, as opposed to the office. 16% of U.S. companies are fully remote.

Is it unhealthy to stay inside all day? ›

The immune system may be weakened

Loneliness and the psychological stress of being indoors a lot are two feelings that can reach all-time highs when a person is not out of the house for long periods of time. Both can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to bacterial infections.

Is working in the office good for mental health? ›

It can provide a sense of purpose and self-worth and opportunities to meet people and make friends. Being in work can also help in the recovery of those with mental health problems. Various factors in the workplace can cause stress or increase the risk of developing or worsening existing mental health problems.

Should I go to work or take a mental health day? ›

It can be really beneficial to take a mental health day, so there's a break from the usual hectic routine which can also be a trigger for mental health issues. Having a free, unstructured day can allow the person to let go of negative thoughts and feelings that usually come up in response to stress and anxiety.”

What companies are ordering employees back to the office? ›

Amazon, Apple, and Starbucks are among the companies now requiring employees to come in three days a week, despite some push back.

Why going back to the office is a bad idea? ›

He says that forcing workers back under the threat of discipline can lead to disengagement, fear, and distrust. A Gallup survey shows that those employees experience significantly lower engagement and well-being and significantly higher intent to leave and levels of burnout.

Can you tell an employee not to come into work? ›

The bottom line is that an employer can tell an employee that they cannot come into work even if the person wants to work.

Can a company allow some people to work from home and not others? ›

According to the Civil Rights Act, it is unlawful and may result in a federal prosecution, including jail time if found guilty. Specifically, working from home discrimination is a real issue. It is one of many forms of workplace discrimination.

Is remote work going away 2023? ›

As long as Millennials are the largest workforce, remote work isn't going anywhere, so companies should be ready to adapt in 2023 and beyond. In the coming years, remote work opportunities will have to meet the demands and expectations of increasingly working Millennials.

How many employers want employees back in the office? ›

But some business leaders say all signs point toward companies forcing employees back into the office in 2023. A recent survey by Slack found that only 12% of people would choose to be in the office full time. Yet 50% of leaders are demanding their employees come back full time.

Will employees return to the office in 2023? ›

Such trends show that the forced return to the office may reverse in the next few months. In short, it's likely that 2023 will see a slight expansion of employees working remotely. These findings suggest that most companies are finding their hybrid workplace policy to be a successful solution for their organization.

What to do when your company is trying to push you out? ›

What to Do If Your Boss is Pushing You Out of Your Role
  1. Find Out Why. If you suspect that your boss wants you to quit, go straight to the source. ...
  2. Reframe the Situation. ...
  3. Calculate Your ROI. ...
  4. Document Everything. ...
  5. Think Carefully Before Turning Down Voluntary Severance. ...
  6. Take the High Road. ...
  7. Cover Your Bases.
Aug 31, 2022

How do you handle an employee who doesn t want to be managed? ›

How to Manage People Who Do Not Want to be Managed
  1. Tactic #1: Allocate a Training Role. Is your employee rude, impatient or superior because others do not have his level of expertise? ...
  2. Tactic #2: Adopt a Coaching Style of Management. ...
  3. Tactic #3: Switch Things Up. ...
  4. Tactic #4: Put Effectiveness First.
Oct 16, 2018

How do I deal with return to office anxiety? ›

If heading back into the office is causing you stress, consider the following tips from health experts to help ease your return.
  1. Accept your anxiety. ...
  2. Gradually expose yourself to in-office work. ...
  3. Establish a routine. ...
  4. Create a task list. ...
  5. Give yourself time to readjust. ...
  6. Practice stress-relieving activities. ...
  7. Set boundaries.
May 25, 2022

Is office job making me unhealthy? ›

Many employees have a job that tethers them to a desk. According to the National Institute of Health, living a sedentary lifestyle leads to a number of health issues, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancers.

Is working in an office unhealthy? ›

Prolonged states of sedentary behavior are also associated with an increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders, particularly lower back pain. In addition, there is an increased risk of sarcopenia, which increases by 33% per hour of incremental sitting.

What is the reason to be out of office? ›

Reasons you might set up an out-of-office message include that you're planning on: Going on vacation. Going to a conference, workshop or professional meeting. Taking maternity or sick leave or a sabbatical.


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