Return To Work Mandates May Be A Big Mistake

Recent surveys by Express Employment Professionals, Harris Polls, Fortune, FlexJobs, the Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh, Business Insider, and others, have all shown conclusively that the majority of employees who can do so prefer to work remotely.  Forced return to work mandates simply encourage people to quit, and it’s already happening.  More than half of workers say they know someone who has, or is planning to, quit their job over return-to-office mandates, and data shows that these mandates are hurting rather than helping many companies.[i]

Whether employers like (or want to believe) it or not, the reality is that Work From Home is here to stay.  In fact, by 2025, an estimated 32.6 million Americans will be working remotely, which equates to about 22% of the workforce.[ii]

However, instead of embracing employees’ desire for remote work, flexibility, and better work-life balance, many firms are engaged in ‘dinosaur management’ tactics and punitive measures to get employees back into the office.[iii]  They’re ignoring the fact that 98% of people want to work from home at least some of the time.[iv]  For example:

  • Dell mandated employees back to the office, telling those who remained at home that they would no longer be considered for promotions.
  • Citibank elected to dock the bonuses of those refusing in-office work 3 days a week.
  • Amazon has told managers that they can fire employees who aren’t meeting the return-to-office requirements, and last November, they too refused promotions to at home employees.[v]

Return-to-office (RTO) mandates are often a control tactic by managers that don’t boost company performance.  What’s more, the mandates appear to make employees less happy with their jobs.  The University of Pittsburg’s research found that requiring more days in the office did nothing to improve profitability or boost stock prices.  In fact, it made employees miserable, and more likely to complain about the daily commute, loss of flexibility and erosion in work-life balance, according to reviews on Glassdoor. It also made them less trusting of their managers![vi]

Research by BetterUp found that returning to the office is a major disruption to one’s routine, foundational work, and overall life experience.  Their survey of 1,400 full-time U.S. employees who were mandated to return to in-office work found that they had higher burnout, stress, and turnover intentions.  They also had lower trust in their organization, engagement, and productivity levels.  What’s more, the average employee returning to the office must spend an extra $561 per month on transportation, additional child and pet care, and domestic assistance, as a result.[vii]

It might also interest you to know that those aged 24 to 35 are the group most likely to work from home.  39% of them already work remotely full time and 25% do so part time.[viii]  Another study reports that nearly two-thirds of workers would be willing to take a pay cut to be able to work remotely.  63% of respondents said remote work was still the most important part of a job to them, ahead of salary, work-life balance, and a good boss.[ix]

Despite these recent findings, over 68% of companies have adopted RTO mandates between 2022 and 2023.[i]  Not surprisingly, companies like Dell, Amazon and Citibank, are now moaning about the loss of talent that they’re ‘suddenly’ facing.

It’s clear that only the most short sighted, Machiavellian business leaders would insist on return to office mandates, but many are doing exactly that; to the detriment of themselves and their employees.  Those who can’t or who won’t adapt are going to find themselves with empty offices as their employees quit in droves.

Thankfully, some companies have found a better strategy.  Smucker’s Chief People and Administrative Officer Jill Penrose came up with the company’s plan as a way to sort of split the difference between the company’s desire for people to be back on-site, and employees’ desire to maintain their remote work freedoms.  They asked their employees why being able to work from home is important to them and then came up with a plan to meet them in the middle.  Employees can now come to the office a total of six days two weeks out of each month, and the rest of the time, they are free to work remotely or in-office — whichever they prefer.[ii]

Working with, rather than against, employees is one of the keys to success in tackling this problem.  Another way that employers can help themselves is to figure out who is and who isn’t capable of working remotely.

Effective remote workers are conscientious, organized, trustworthy, hard-working, dependable, autonomous, multi-taskers, and self-motivated rule-followers who have good time management skills.  Not surprisingly, there’s a test for that!  In fact, there are many.

If you’re hiring people who may rarely or never be in the office, you need to ensure that they have the traits and aptitudes listed above.  Two tests that are specifically designed for this are the Work From Home/Telecommuting Test II and the Remote Worker Aptitude Assessment.

Instead of just forcing everyone to do what you want, find the people who can do what you need done, and who you can rely upon to be productive, effective, and dependable, whether you’re there to monitor them or not.

Just some of the other ways that employers can ensure the quality of their remote worker candidates include:

Employers don’t need to be draconian to get what they want, they just need to be flexible, a bit kinder, and remember that “there’s a test for that!”

David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering nearly 40 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has nearly 5000 different product titles available. Creative Organizational Design has assessment tools designed to help employers screen out other people’s rejects, assess skills, aptitude, attitude and ‘fit’ within an organization. For more information about the options available and help selecting the best tools for your needs please contact us because no matter what personnel challenges you’re facing – there’s a test for that!  Please send comments about this article to



[i] Woman Forced To Go Into The Office To ‘Collaborate’ With Coworkers Realizes She’s The Only One Not Working From Home

[ii] Why One Company’s ‘Strange’ Return To Office Mandate Is Actually The Only One That Makes Sense

[i] Why One Company’s ‘Strange’ Return To Office Mandate Is Actually The Only One That Makes Sense

[ii] Remote Work Statistics And Trends In 2024

[iii] Forcing workers back to the office is ‘dinosaur management’ – and companies risk losing out, expert says

[iv] Remote Work Statistics And Trends In 2024

[v] Forcing workers back to the office is ‘dinosaur management’ – and companies risk losing out, expert says

[vi] Ordering workers back to the office a ‘power grab’ by bosses, research suggests

[vii] Employees are spending the equivalent of a month’s grocery bill on the return to the office–and growing more resentful than ever, new survey finds

[viii] Remote Work Statistics And Trends In 2024

[ix] Return-to-office mandates aren’t working: Most workers are ready to quit for a remote job, even if it means a pay cut

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