Gallup: Now Isn't the Time to Abandon Flexible Work
A recent Gallup report revealed employee engagement in the U.S. is on the decline.
The data shows employee engagement has been falling by two percentage points each year since 2020, from 36% to 34% in 2021, to 32% in 2022 — the lowest level since 2013, according to Gallup.
Perhaps even more worrisome: Active disengagement has increased by six percentage points since 2020. Today, 18% of the US workforce is considered to be actively disengaged, according to the survey.
Gallup says companies that want to boost their employees' engagement should embrace hybrid work for remote-ready employees, as the right mix of in-person time can result in the highest levels of employee engagement, the report read.
So, why are so many companies choosing to put an end to flexible working?
Why Are Some Business Leaders Abandoning Flexible Working?
A growing number of companies are now asking workers back in the office — despite their outcry.
In September, Microsoft reported that 50% of managers expect their staff to return to the office at least 50% of the time. And that number has been increasing since.
The reason, according to the report, is the same old debunked myth of productivity: 85% of leaders believe flexible work makes it more challenging to measure productivity, although there is now plenty of evidence to suggest that remote workers' productivity is higher than in-office employees.
"Comparing the present to what we once knew can conjure nostalgic emotions of 'wanting to go back,'" said Raisa Ramos, HR director at industrial manufacturing company Certified Power. "As humans, we cling to the familiar, and we also yearn to be connected to people, to purpose, to know that our work matters."
In her view, having employees back in the office brings familiarity to certain managers — and thus peace of mind.
But, Ramos said, now that employees have experienced the benefits of flexible working, it will be very difficult to go back. And forcing the issue may make matters worse with employees, leading them to quit and putting more pressure on already over-stretched HR departments.
"[The] rationale centers around these three concerns: culture, collaboration and visibility," said Brett Martin, co-founder of Kumospace and Charge Ventures. "Managers might therefore be worried that they can't build a thriving culture when the team is working remotely or flexibly. And they might also feel that employees can't collaborate when they're not in the same room."
Related Article: Employee Apathy at All-Time High
What Are the Risks of Not Allowing Flexible Working?
Disallowing flexible working after years of doing it can cause a counter-reaction.
Ramos said if employees feel they no longer have the option of flexibility, it can eat away at their motivation and, as a result, productivity. This would have the opposite effect of what employers are trying to achieve by bringing workers back.
Employees may also choose to quiet quit, disconnecting from the workplace, and perhaps even start actively looking for another role.
Martin believes this can also cause significant problems with recruitment. Employees demand flexibility today, and companies that don't offer flexible working conditions run the risk of keeping the best talent at bay.
A study by LinkedIn showed that remote jobs postings received 50% of all applications, despite representing less than 20% of all jobs posted. Companies that choose to ignore market signals may be setting themselves up for stunted growth due to staff shortages.
Related Article: The Value and Limitations of Returning to the Office
Why Now Is the Time to Double Down on Flexible Working Conditions
With so many companies calling workers back into the office, companies that want to snag the best talent and set themselves apart should double down on their flexibility message.
"With an anticipated recession looming, many businesses are already downsizing their workforce, and some organizations are seeing this as an opportunity to force their people back to the physical work location — solving once and for all the hybrid headache they have been dealing with," said Jay Barrett, founder and HR executive at HR consultancy Culture Canopy.
But, he said, that's the wrong strategy. Instead, Barrett said now is the time to invest in flexible working by looking holistically at how, where and when team members perform best. By building an agile culture, leaders can get more out of their workforce and deliver against company goals.
Then, there's the cost advantage. Martin said that by preserving and nurturing the flexible working style, businesses can cut costs now, when it matters the most. No longer do employers have to be tied to expensive real estate or held to specific regional cost demographics.
Talent is among the top challenges for business today, and solving the skills shortage does not start by alienating your people.