Rigid return to office mandates and fixed places of work are backfiring

A new study by Great Place To Work claims that forcing employees back to the office with so-called return-to-office mandates can have negative consequencesA new study by Great Place To Work claims that obliging employees back to the office with so-called return-to-office mandates and restricting their choice of work location can have negative consequences for the business. The report based on a survey of 4,400 US workers, claims to reveal a strong correlation between work location flexibility and positive employee experiences. Compared to those without a choice, employees with control over their work environment are three times more likely to want to stay with their company, and significantly less likely to become disengaged – a trend that has been referred to as “quiet quitting.” They’re also more likely to put in extra effort, foster good relationships with their managers, and feel their workplace fosters a healthy psychological and emotional environment.

The report says that these findings highlight the importance of flexibility in the post-pandemic workplace. Despite the data, however, an estimated 70 percent of U.S. employees currently have their work location dictated by their employer.

The study, titled Return-to-Office Mandates and the Future of Work [registration] suggests that a strong company culture can mitigate the downsides of a less flexible work arrangement. Notably, workplaces with high trust levels reported positive employee experiences even without remote work options. Here, 83 percent of employees said their workplace was psychologically healthy, compared to just 51 percent at mandated-workplace companies.

The study also explores industry-specific considerations for remote and flexible work:

  • Finance: Remote workers may struggle to feel connected to their work’s purpose and need stronger managerial support.
  • Tech: Remote workers report better work-life balance but want clearer communication about the company’s future. Onsite employees value strong manager relationships but risk burnout.
  • Healthcare: Remote workers feel supported by managers but onsite workers may need better recognition.
  • Manufacturing & Production: Hybrid workers report enjoyment, recognition, and a voice in decision-making.

While flexibility is crucial, the report suggests that it’s not the only factor. The best places of work create positive experiences through various means, including:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • Compressed workweeks
  • Generous paid time off (PTO)
  • Predictable schedules for hourly workers
  • More part-time work opportunities

The study also highlights an ongoing challenge: employee mental health. While aspects like work-life balance and fair pay have improved, psychological and emotional wellbeing hasn’t seen significant gains since 2021. This suggests companies need to prioritise employee mental health initiatives.