HR expert says biz leaders scared RTO mandates lead to staff attrition

So why not drop the policy? Productivity bias or productivity paranoia perhaps

Evidence is mounting that tech companies' policies demanding staff return to the office are only serving to drive out the talent that became accustomed to remote work.

According to a Gartner-led survey of 3,500 employees in the tech industry undertaken in November 2023, 19 percent of non-executives said they'd quit over a return-to-office mandate, and an even larger proportion in management positions expressed similar sentiments.

Endless rows of cubicles

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"While 58 percent of executives with a mandate to return to the office said their organization provided a convincing reason for the decision, many senior leaders are unwilling to come back into the office," said Caroline Ogawa, director of Gartner's HR practice.

In another Gartner poll run in September of 170 HR heads, some 63 percent voiced higher expectations of staff coming back to the traditional workplace; 34 percent said a mandated return was already in place, and 13 percent warned that “consequences” of not complying had “intensified”.

Dell, Meta, IBM, Google, Wipro and many, many others have started to monitor the presence of employee at their desks. Repeated violations could limit promotion opportunities at some companies. Roblox took an ever harder line, telling staff that didn’t want to return to find a new job.

Ogawa added: “An April 2024 Gartner survey of 64 HR leaders revealed 64 percent say senior leaders are concerned onsite requirements will increase attrition,” she added.

Canalys predicted more than 18 months ago that tech businesses need to re-consider the metrics they use to evaluate how productive an employee is: because being tethered to a desk is not giving an accurate picture. Proximity bias, the analysis said, would have implications for staff retention.

Productivity paranoia remains a problem, something that Microsoft pointed out some time ago.

Amazon said last year that engineers worked better when together in person and Meta’s policy concurred, adding that working side by side in the physical sense was essential to help new starters or graduate imbibe corporate culture.

Pandemic poster child Zoom also ironically said it wanted the workforce to return to the office, and put in place a swanky new office in London where “remote work” meets “we need you back in the office”.

Just this week, research from the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago found a number of senior staffers exiting their employers including Microsoft, Apple and SpaceX due to RTO mandates. Microsoft contested the study.

Gartner's Ogawa pointed to research in April that almost two-thirds (64 percent) of HR bosses it spoke to said senior execs at their organizations "are concerned onsite requirements will increase attrition."

It's not all one-way traffic, though: Nvidia, Atlassian, Dropbox and others are sticking to their pledges to foster more hybrid, flexible working policies. Perhaps some researchers should look to see if those businesses are retaining more staff. ®

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