Why Don’t My People Want to Go Back to Work?  

by | Nov 28, 2022 | Organizational Health, Retention

81 percent of workers do not want to go back to the office. That includes a portion of your team members, whether or not they’ve been vocal about it to you.  

As a manager of reluctant returners, you may worry and wonder, “Why don’t my people want to go back to work?” However, if that’s the first question that pops into your head, you’re starting in the wrong place.  

Your people are already at work. They’re putting in their energy and generating results.  

There are plenty of good reasons people don’t want to come back to the office. Your job as a leader is to understand the challenges they’re facing and, if you need them back in the office, to inspire them to want to come back to work instead of dragging them back.  

Why Going Back Is Unappealing to Some Workers  

When people don’t want to come back to the office, it’s usually not an issue with hating their coworkers or their job. More often, it’s because being at home allows them to regain some time or efficiency.  

  • Commuting takes an additional 56 minutes from employees daily and incurs additional costs for fuel, vehicle maintenance, parking, etc.  
  • Knowledge workers typically spend two-thirds of their time on meetings and the associated, unrewarding busy work which can drain productivity and reduce the amount of time available for focused or truly collaborative work.   
  • People often are doing the same thing at work they could do at home – returning to the office only to spend hours on video calls is a frustrating waste of time and resources.  
  • While working at home, many workers were able to make healthy lifestyle adjustments –eating more nutritious at-home meals or turning commute time into exercise opportunities. They fear returning to the office will negatively impact their ability to stick with new routines.  

People have seen that remote works. There’s a different value proposition associated with their efforts when they’re working from home. They’ve proven they can be productive and can communicate effectively across time and distance.  

Sending people back into the office dissolves the processes they’ve built and creates the potential for additional confusion and stress. To bring them back, you need a really good reason – one that’s more about them and less about exerting your management muscles.  

Change the Way It Feels to Come Back By Changing Your Expectations and Culture 

If you bring your people back to the office, it needs to be because they want to and are on board. If you force them back in, you do two things:  

If you entice them back by making the return valuable for them, you can maintain a happy, engaged and loyal workforce that’s dedicated and able to perform at a high level regardless of location. You can make the return process more palatable for your people by making conscious decisions about changes to business-as-usual, including:  

  • Keep the focus on productivity. When workers are home, they can manage their time and set boundaries. Give them that freedom even when they’re in the office and focus on what they’re producing, not how.  
  • Help them compartmentalize. College-educated women with children at home are the people most eager for work-from-home flexibility. That’s because they’re handling an overwhelming amount of work between personal and professional expectations. If you’re leading these workers, clearly institute firm boundaries and compartmentalization between work and personal time.
  • Streamline processes. Remote work can require more steps and coordination for complex projects. That additional process management can create a heavier cognitive load and drain energy. Meeting in short sprints at the office to work through processes can be effective and make teams feel good about the time spent there.  
  • Make your time together valuable. When you bring people together in the office, there needs to be value in the meeting time. You’re asking your employees to give up time and freedom for you. Make sure meetings and conversations in the office have strategic value. Don’t rehash old information; focus on actionable items that move work forward. 
  • Give them something they can’t get at home. What would make a return to the office feel fulfilling to your team members? Scheduling one-on-one coaching sessions? Providing professional development resources? Offering time to connect with their colleagues? Workers report higher levels of happiness when they have strong interpersonal connections at work, and those emotional connections may have been missing or neglected during remote work.  
  • Lead with high positive energy. Energy-inspired leadership is contagious. When you demonstrate this leadership to your team, they gain tangible benefits from being together with you. They’re empowered to make strategic decisions. They understand their energy needs and work in tune with them to face and overcome challenges 
  • Be clear about incentives. Incentives could mean free lunches or schedule flexibility. However, more meaningfully, you could also share that you need to see their leadership skills in action so you can promote them. People who work together accomplish big things together both as a team and in their individual careers. You can also give them the opportunity to lead projects that would give them a sense of pride and an opportunity to do meaningful work.  

Back To The Office Success is Up to You  

Leaders can reduce back-to-the-office angst by shifting their own mindsets. Instead of demanding teams come back to “prove” leadership, change the way you engage. When leaders inspire and create a culture of personal sustainability (where people perform at a high level, then recover), their team members crave the connection and support offered by a return to the office.  

Giving your people clarity on returning to the office is about more than the logistics. Show them how you can all genuinely benefit from being together and the impact it could have on your work. True connection can unlock their capacity for high performance and ensure everyone is at their best each time you’re together in the office. 

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