Why Employees Don’t Want To Return to the Office

Why Employees Don’t Want To Return to the Office

Since the pandemic, many employees have made clear that they don’t want to return to the office full time. In response, more and more businesses are offering a hybrid workplace model. One where employees split their week between working in person and working remotely.

Having the flexibility works well for most employees with remote-capable jobs. Statistics from Gallup show that 60% want to work off-site for part of the week. About one-third don’t want to go back to the office at all.

Hybrid work

What’s important to understand is why your employees want more flexibility over where they work. Hint: The reasons go much deeper than wanting to work in sweatpants all day.

The better you understand their reasons, the better you can design a remote work policy that enables individuals to do their best work.

What’s more, the better your policy meets the needs of workers, the better the business attracts and retains the best employees.

Most common reasons employees want remote work

From supporting their mental health to caring for loved ones, employees have many reasons why they want to work remotely. Some of the most common reasons are:

  1. Child care costs too much
  2. There’s no commuting stress
  3. It’s easier to keep a work-life balance
  4. There’s more control over the workday
  5. There’s no clear reason to work in person

1. Child care costs too much

One analysis shows child care payments in America have soared 32% since 2019. The cost is so expensive that some parents must cut back their work hours — or worse, leave their jobs completely.

Women, especially those in underrepresented groups, are usually the ones leaving the workforce. Unfortunately, this trend may widen the gender and racial income inequality gap. One study estimates a temporary break can cost women up to 26% of their lifetime earnings, which can mean less money saved for retirement.

Some of these moms may not have time to worry about their future because their present day feels so unstable. Lower-income families often live paycheck to paycheck, so losing even a few hours of work each week can mean the difference between having the money to feed their kids two meals a day, or just one.

Remote work allows parents to take care of their children and stay in the workforce, so they can protect the health and safety of their family.

2. There’s no commuting stress

The average American spends 19% of their annual income commuting to and from work. That comes out to about $8,466 and 239 hours each year.

Cost of commuting

The expense and time drain is just a start. According to Psychology Today, sitting in traffic can make people feel a loss of predictability and control. In time, those feelings may lead to boredom, social isolation, anger, and frustration. One Dartmouth study suggests that as the stress from commuting builds, the employee’s performance may drop.

When employees can avoid the commute, they can spend those 239 hours doing what’s best for their mental and physical health. That may be having breakfast with their family, exercising, or snoozing an extra half-hour.

Read: Why Growth-Focused Companies Should Leverage Remote Work

3. It’s easier to keep a work-life balance

Before the pandemic, people were trying to squeeze life around their jobs. But after the pandemic, they wanted work to fit into their lives. In fact, maintaining a work-life balance is so important that nearly half (46%) would quit a job if it prevented them from enjoying their life, according to a Workmonitor report by Randstad.

Work life balance

The report also shows that having time for a personal life is so important,  most workers (93%) rate work-life balance as high as pay. The thing is, employees can only achieve that balance when they have flexibility over where and when they work.

If they have no choice, their day may look like this: Rush to get themself and their kids out the door, spend an hour sitting in traffic, work hard all day hoping to leave at a decent time, sit in traffic for another hour, and then get home in time to have dinner and put the kids to bed.

In contrast, a day with remote work flexibility may go like this: Have breakfast with their family, log into work, get dinner started during their lunch break, and be home to greet the kids after school.

4. There’s more control over the workday

In the traditional work model, workers go to the same location, start at the same time, and then leave at the same time. That rigidity can be great for manufacturing, but it’s not so good for knowledge workers.

Knowledge workers need quiet time to focus, alone time to explore ideas, and together time to collaborate. For them, Gartner researchers believe there should be four modes of working.

Each mode is a combination of working onsite and remotely, alone and together. By empowering employees to determine how best to use their time, they can be more productive and innovative.

4 modes of working

You may not be ready to apply the four work modes yet, but allowing for remote work is a good start. Remote work gives employees the freedom to do what’s best for them — and therefore, their jobs.

For instance, everyone’s focus fluctuates throughout the day. When focus dips for on-site employees, they must stay in their cubicles working ineffectively or even pretending to work, which is both a waste of time and emotionally draining. However, remote workers can use the lull to get dinner started or take a quick walk and then come back refreshed.

Related: Why Good Remote Management Hinges On Outcomes

5. There’s no clear reason to work in person

Employees don’t want to be called back into the office without a convincing reason why.

If you give the usual reasons like how in-person interactions protect the corporate culture and can lead to spontaneous creativity, you’ll need to dig deeper. This is especially obvious if workers make the effort to show up in person only to be greeted by rows of empty desks or to sit in their cubicles on Zoom calls.

Findings from the Upwork Research Institute show that top-performing companies are much more transparent than others about when they expect the workforce to be in the office. And they are more likely than their peers to make that decision based on each role. Dr. Kelly Monahan, Managing Director of the Upwork Research Institute, explains:  

[The leaders] understand that clarity is kindness. They don’t arbitrarily pick Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as ‘good’ dates for people to come into the office. These leaders base their decisions on data and what’s best for the individual and the individual’s workflow.”

Evolving office culture

Remote work is the future of work and it’s how work is done now. A Gallup study shows about half of remote-capable employees already work hybrid. Only about 20% work in the office every day.

For those who can work remotely, their desire may increase over time. Researchers predict that 60% of employees will prefer a hybrid workplace.

Evolving work culture

Since so many people already work remotely at least part of the week, office culture is no longer built and contained within the office. Now is the time to assess your remote work culture to ensure everyone feels supported, connected, and included, no matter where they’re working.

Much like establishing your in-office culture, building and maintaining a healthy remote work culture requires an ongoing commitment. So be sure to regularly test, assess, and refine your efforts. You could start by asking:

  • How do you ensure new remote employees feel welcomed and connected to the company from day one?
  • How do you break down silos between functions to facilitate collaboration?
  • What tech and tools do you provide for employees to quickly access information required to do their jobs?
  • In what ways do you ensure employees feel appreciated and valued?

Read: 17 Successful Management Tips for Leading Remote Teams

Find remote workers on Upwork

Although every generation values having the option to work remotely, none expect it more than the youngest generation. Nearly 4 in 10 (39%) Gen Z workers said working from home is non-negotiable, according to the Workmonitor report mentioned earlier.

Gen Z

These workers feel so strongly about having workplace flexibility that 37% would consider quitting their jobs if asked to spend more time in the office.

And if workers can’t find jobs that give them the freedom to work from anywhere, they’ll ditch the 9-to-5 altogether to become freelancers. In fact, nearly half of freelancers are knowledge workers providing the type of services that many businesses could use more help with. Services include IT, marketing, and computer programming.

So businesses that embrace remote work win two ways: They can better attract and retain quality employees. They can work with freelancers to quickly scale teams, test ideas, and adapt to industry shifts.

See how Upwork helps you get important work done by delivering more ways to work with independent talent.


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Author Spotlight

Why Employees Don’t Want To Return to the Office
Brenda Do

Brenda Do is a direct-response copywriter who loves to create content that helps businesses engage their target audience—whether that’s through enticing packaging copy to a painstakingly researched thought leadership piece. Brenda is the author of "It's Okay Not to Know"—a book helping kids grow up confident and compassionate.

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