- Some employees are becoming increasingly frustrated with their company’s return-to-work plans.
- In some cases, they have even quit their jobs over inflexible work policies.
- As offices reopen, an expert shared the best strategies leaders should use to keep staff on board.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
As vaccination drives continue to ramp up, return-to-office plans are slowly coming into effect.
Companies, such as Apple, have announced a plan that expects employees to come back to the office three days a week from September. Other companies have not yet posted what their back-to-office plans are.
But for many, a return to office life isn’t a simple transition after so long. In fact, 55% of employees said they would prefer to remain remote at least three days a week, according to a January 2021 study from PWC that surveyed 1,200 office workers throughout November and December 2020.
Most recently, Apple employees revolted against CEO Tim Cook over the company’s new work policy in a letter signaling their frustration toward a three-day office schedule. The letter also addressed a growing concern that the new policy has already forced some of the staff to quit over its inflexibility.
So, how can leaders build flexible work environments and implement return-to-work strategies that retain workers and avoid employee resignations?
Rose Gailey, a return-to-work and organizational culture expert, and partner at Heidrick & Struggles, a management consulting firm focused on leadership and shaping corporate culture, discussed the subject with Insider and shared strategies leaders should adopt to retain their workers in their return-to-office plans.
An empathetic approach
“Employees will not leave a company solely because of the tangibles like pay or return to work — those may be factors, but they are likely to leave if they don’t feel valued, understood, and supported,” Gailey said in reference to a seemingly growing divide between employees and their leaders in some companies.
The leaders that handle this pivotal moment most successfully will be C-suite leaders that lean into their humanity and empathy, she said. “One clear lesson from the pandemic: new models have emerged and companies need to embrace greater levels of flexibility.”
One of the biggest mistakes leaders are susceptible to in their post-pandemic work plans is believing we can return to old models, Gailey said. “Companies should guard against assuming that an arbitrary return date will mean 100% normalcy.”
To address growing concerns around mass resignations as a result of companies’ return-to-office plans, Gailey expanded on the strategies she thinks company leaders should adopt to prevent employee walkouts.
Plan your approach
“Leaders need to approach returning to the office with the same level of planning and importance as the acquisition of a new company or the launch of a new product — clearly focused on executing a strategy through a foundation of a thriving culture,” she said.
Communicate with employees
Communication between employees and company leaders is critical, according to Gailey.
“Recent data suggests up to 47% of workers say their firm has not communicated with them about the return to office plans.” Companies, therefore, must rely on “sensitive, two-way communication, gather feedback [and] reflect it to employees.”
The mantra should then become “iterate, test and learn,” as companies continue ongoing dialogue with employees, she added.
‘Draft a vision for how to live your values’
For Gailey, any return-to-office roadmaps must be future-focused, rooted in culture and performance. “It can’t be about just getting people back into the office.”
She continued: “Draft a vision for how to live your values and challenge leaders to model inclusive behaviors by announcing policies and work structures with both clarity and agility,”
Building a flexible company culture
Authenticity and agility are key to building a company culture that enables flexible-working environments and fosters employee productivity and wellbeing, according to Gailey.
“Leaders have to embrace authenticity, double down on agility, and truly commit to the hard work of building a great culture.”
The past 15 months have accelerated long overdue changes for the American worker, Gailey said, “and have highlighted the idea that culture is not about the place you work — it’s about the spirit of an organization.”