February 29, 2024

CEO Mandated Return to Office: Trends, Challenges, and Employee Reactions


Episode Highlights

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In this episode of Talent Insights, Emily and Ryan delve into the trending and controversial “Or else” CEO-mandated return-to-office policies. (I know, eyeroll).

They dive deeper into strict guidelines, potential consequences, and the driving forces behind these mandates. How does this have an impact on employees? You’ll find out through the new coined term like ‘coffee badging.’

They also browse the broader implications for organizational culture and it’s roots. Join Em and Ryan as they dissect the latest developments and offer insights into the landscape of remote work and office expectations.

Episode Transcript

This week’s Talent Insights segment, we’re covering a hot topic, a timely topic, a topic that fits a variety of categories.

And the topic we’re talking about today is the CEO mandated return to office, or else. Or else. How scary does that sound? Nope. It does sound scary, honestly. Like to me, it really, truly does. And we’re going to dive-

We’re going to dive into all that. Yeah. Well, let’s do it. You know, I was reading an article recently on CNBC that really detailed basically the limited success that the return to office or else policies that we’ve been seeing, you know, since late last year in 2023 into 2024 this year. And what they’ve been having. So what we’ve seen through this quarter is basically a mandate that CEOs are stating that employees have to return to the office. But not only that, but they’re operating with stricter guidelines on the amount of time in the office and also consequences if employees don’t comply.

Yeah. And I know you’ve said like those mandated guidelines. So we’re seeing everything from like, you have to be in office five days a week. Like that’s it to very strict guidelines around. I think one of the examples I read, you sent me that same article was around, like, you have to be either in office three days a week or at a client site, at least three days a week.

So just strict like guidelines and mandates. And you mentioned severe consequences, right? For people who don’t comply or else, right? Or else, what are you referring to when you say like consequences like that? I mean, it’s a variety of things, but I think literally employees are being forced to leave organizations or being asked to leave organizations.

It’s basically in terms of what I’m gathering, it’s either comply with the new office guidelines or find a new job and that’s it. There’s much less flexibility around what this looks like than what we saw even last year. And unfortunately this even goes in some cases for employees who relocated away from office hubs, when they were remote employees and no longer live a commutable distance, Emily Goor, you know, their office. And so we can, you know, we can see through this that like, things are just getting stricter and stricter and it’s definitely challenging. I think about that exact scenario all the time, right?

Like two years into the global pandemic, I moved back to Los Angeles. I’m like, I don’t know what I would do if all of a sudden Hirewell was like, you have to be back in office. So it’s, I don’t know, it clearly-

What we’re seeing recently is that these in office mandates are not optional. I feel like we’re not going to be surprised by your answer, but who’s leading the way with these mandates?

Yeah, well, you’re right Em, they’re not optional. In many cases, they are absolutely a mandate, meaning people have to be in there. And as usual, the large corporations are really setting this return to office mandate trend. So think companies like, Google, JPMorgan Chase, some large law firms, IBM, they’re all setting some sort of an office mandate.

Like you said before, whether it’s five days in the week or some sort of hybrid mandate. And you know, other companies are noticing this and they’re taking suit. Yeah, that’s right. And we look at data because we love data. Data is the best. The article you mentioned, I think they mentioned a poll of like almost a thousand business leaders and then like 800 business leaders.

And they found that 80% of companies are going to be tracking some sort of employee office attendance, right? In any sort of capacity, in 2024. Yeah, they absolutely are. But, you know, with all of this being said, I think it’s important for us to think about why companies are starting to crack down on this and why it feels important to them.

So I think companies, but most specifically CEOs, because as we mentioned, this is really like a CEO mandated return to office policy, we’re thinking about things like collaboration, internal talent development, effective communication, and how to kind of recreate those environments in their office space.

And with people being in the office, I mean, it’s no surprise. Some of these things are more challenging in a remote environment, not impossible. But more challenging. And so I think that’s where some of this push is coming from. This wasn’t in the article that we are referring to with this Talent Insights, but I saw something else recently that said a lot of CEOs are also leaning on it being a business case to improve financial standing in an organization.

And all of the data that I’ve been seeing so far this year, is it’s actually not helping at all. There’s been no positive increase towards an organization doing well financially with folks being in the office. So I think, you know, it’s a variety of reasons, but some of these things specifically are really what’s kind of pushing towards that decision making.

That’s really interesting. I’m glad you brought up that data too, because, you know, it’s kind of nice to actually look at evidence and proof that just because you’re in the office doesn’t automatically mean that your company is going to be performing better financially. I think all those reasons, I feel like they’re fair.

Like those are fair reasons. Like you mentioned collaboration, internal talent development. We just had a leadership meeting yesterday where we were talking about. just the things that you could learn sitting next to somebody else in a cubicle that are a lot more challenging to learn now that we’re all in a remote setting.

I think it’s completely fair, but I like what you said about, it’s not the only way to improve communication and collaboration, internal talent development, like going back into the office is not the only way to do those things. So, if your company is struggling with some of those elements, yes, that is one option, but like, there are other things behind door number two.

I just think we all need to keep that in mind. I agree. I’m just curious too, like kind of thinking about, you know, I said how I would react if our employees go back into the office in Chicago, I’ve moved my life away from well, actually, my heart will always be in Chicago. I was going to say, Em, come on.

That’s true. It’s so true. How are employees reacting to these, in office mandates? Not well, I think, as one could imagine. You know, we’ve talked extensively, Em, over the last couple weeks about how there is this want, and I think in some sense need, to have that in person collaboration. But not in the vein of it being mandated, right?

Or without flexibility. I think that those are the things that, you know, employees are definitely open to being in the office in some capacity, but the mandates and kind of stricter guidelines around what that looks like is creating a culture that I think is. It’s kind of unsettling. If you look at some of the things that employees are experiencing.

So one thing is, you know, the silent quitting. We’ve heard that terminology quite a bit where folks are doing what they need to be doing, but not really going above and beyond. Or, you know, working towards certain goals within the organization. So that silent quitting is something that’s definitely happening for sure.

And then there’s a unique one that I just like learned about this over the last couple of weeks. It’s called coffee badging. And for those-

Okay, yes.

Yeah, it’s an unfamiliar term. I think for a lot of people. I’m curious how often we’re going to hear it this year. So we’ll have to pin this video and then like, come back and see later in the year, how often we use the term. Yeah, when it’s trending later on and we’re like, yeah, you heard it here, first. Exactly. But if folks are unfamiliar with this term, like I was originally, it’s basically when an employee is coming into an office to show face, they’re grabbing like a cup of coffee. They’re saying hello to their colleagues.

They’re sitting down for a little bit to do work and then they’re heading home. So they’re not spending the whole day in the office. It’s basically just showing face. And then it’s not to say that employees are not working the rest of the day. They’re probably going home to work from home the remainder of the day.

But nobody’s going in for an eight hour day, if you’re coffee badging. You’re there for a few hours max, and then you’re heading back home. Yeah. I think we’re going to see, like, we’ll be able to uncover more in the next few months about how employees are reacting to these mandates as more mandates are rolling out.

Exactly. I think to your point, we spoke about the need for some in person, like people are craving some face to face interaction. Even when I think of the word mandate, it’s such an ick to me. And there’s certain mandates, right? Like, I don’t want to get into like, oh, you know, whatever. But like, there’s certain mandates, and I’m like, okay, yes, we’re here. But like, I think, looking at our country’s recent history, thinking about the word mandate just automatically makes people reactive, I think. And so I just,

I agree. I think it’s tough.

I think that I know we’ve discussed people are craving some sort of in person human interaction, but the mandate, it’s tough to wrap my head around. It’s totally tough. And, you know, if I had to give any sort of advice to employers to CEOs that are thinking about mandating these types of policies in terms of returning to work. I think, you know, hindsight is usually 2020. But if we could use hindsight over the last four years to really understand that, you know, there are going to be times that it’s going to be an employee driven market and an employer driven market. And those two things can switch very quickly as we’ve seen over the last four years.

And so it might be an employer market right now where organizations can really drive the decision making, can set the standards, can mandate certain things. But soon enough, it will be an employee market once again. And if you are one of the organizations that has put these mandates in place, I can promise you that employees will remember that if they’ve stuck with you.

They’re probably going to leave later when they, you know, it becomes an employee driven market again. And there’s more flexibility and there’s more perks for employees. So I would think about that because retention is something that’s really challenging to wrap your arms around as an employer. And, you know, retention has been at the forefront of a lot of conversations over the last four years.

And this is just one more thing that I think we’ll add to that bucket. And again, this is your employer branch. So think about if you’re mandating something, what does that say about you as an organization? Mic drop. It was beautifully put.

I literally have nothing else to add. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I appreciate that, Em. But yeah, I mean, I think that this article itself was just really interesting. We’ll link it in the comments. So folks can go and read a little bit more in depth. But, you know, I’m excited to see where this goes and how it trends over the next, you know, few quarters this year and what kind of the sentiment is like.

I do think though, right now, there’s a pretty big push for this. And if we’re seeing some of the giant organizations doing this in our labor market, I do think we’re going to start to see a trickle down effect. Always happens. There’s always a trickle down effect. And, you know, we saw it on the flip side at the beginning of the pandemic where, you know, they were the first to be like, put in place remote policies and now the flip side is happening. So it’s really, you know, like you said, it’ll continue to unfold. We’ll follow it for you. We’ll keep you all filled in. So keep tuning in.

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