Back-to-the-office conundrum

The back-to-the-office conundrum

Giving employees the ultimatum of ‘come back to the office or lose your job’ is very likely going to continue backfiring on the business

Over the past year, many companies have put their proverbial feet down – come back to the office, or else. They’ve demanded that their employees walk away from a significantly better quality of life and back into traffic jams, road rage, early mornings and, perhaps most uncomfortably, wearing masks for up to 12 hours a day. This hasn’t delivered the reaction that these companies were expecting. Most have simply resigned. The Great Resignation, first noticed in 2021, is now in full flow as people leave their existing employment in search of companies that pay attention to what they want.

“People have adapted to working remotely,” says Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit. “They would rather not have a job than go back to the office. If their bosses demand that they get out of their pyjamas and get back to the office, they resign. This has resulted in a radical shift in recruitment trends and approaches – today, most job ads are for remote workers. At least, this is a major trend internationally. Here, in South Africa, companies are staying stuck in their rigid ways and forcing the office return.”

Many large companies in South Africa are refusing to even consider the idea of a remote, or even hybrid workplace. They have established structure and aren’t going to step outside of them. Smaller companies have shown a more adaptable approach with many building working frameworks that adapt to the needs of their employees, but this is not as common as seen in other countries.

“The challenge for the organisation is to find a more consultative way of approaching this situation,” says Myburgh. “If management is set in the old ways of working but the workforce is demanding to work remotely, then the future should be co-created to come as close as possible to meet everyone’s needs. This means moving away from demands and orders and instead moving towards discussions and collaborations. These approaches will result in better staff retention and engagement.”

The fallout from not even considering alternative ways of working goes far beyond mere resignations. Yes, many will just walk away, but those who can’t afford to leave will come back to the office disengaged and unhappy. This is further compounded by the cost of transport and fuel. People have adapted to a lifestyle where their salaries go further because they don’t commute, and now they’re facing both office and bill shock. It’s not a fair situation and people are tired, angry and fed up.”

Add the costs, the commute, the mask-wearing, the time lost each day together and you’ve got zero reason for people to come back to the office. It’s as compelling as root canal.

“It’s worth building better working frameworks, not just because it keeps people happy, but because it builds a better business culture and is more likely to attract high-end talent to your company,” concludes Myburgh.

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