How to Prepare Unhappy Workers for Return-To-Office Mandates  

The rising number of employers implementing return-to-office policies is increasing the risk of workers becoming unsatisfied and disengaged, according to research from McLean & Company. Mandated, one-size-fits-all approaches come with numerous risks, the company said, including exclusion, increased turnover and disengagement, reduced productivity, employee backlash and declining trust in the organization.

McLean’s position is backed up by a survey from the Conference Board that showed 71% of employers that mandate an on-site work policy have difficulty retaining workers. Those same organizations reported a decrease in employee well-being, including mental health and a sense of belonging.

“Many employees made drastic changes to their lives during the pandemic, such as relocating, and are now required to make significant changes again, which can result in increased stress and anxiety,” said McLean Executive Advisor LynnAnn Brewer. “Leaders must practice empathy and flexibility throughout the return process to mitigate the risks of losing talent or damaging employee engagement and employer reputation.”

Managing Workplace Changes

To address these concerns, McLean suggests creating a strategic planning team with different backgrounds and experience levels to provide perspective and help mitigate bias when creating RTO plans. Additionally, any changes to the RTO policy should directly address issues identified through and backed by data, McLean said.

The firm created a plan for business leaders, including:  

  1. Assess Organizational and Employee Needs: Leaders should review key players’ responsibilities in the RTO process, examine strategic documents to determine how RTO supports the organization’s strategic direction, and gather existing data to identify insights. Conduct focus groups with leaders to identify the plans’ rationale, launch surveys to gather the employee perspective and categorize the insights gathered to identify reasons RTO is necessary, along with related misconceptions.
  2. Create the RTO Policy: Create a planning committee to assess the logistics of the office space and identify incentives that you can offer employees as they return to the office. At the same time, identify exemptions from the RTO policy, formulate its guiding principles and drafting and obtain executive approval.
  3. Roll Out the Policy: Have rollout and communication plans, ready to share with people leaders and employees. Provide people leaders with the tools they need to implement the RTO policy within their teams. Once done, leaders should have aligned the RTO policy with existing HR programs and devised an approach for evaluating their progress.
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