Employers out of touch with staff over return to office

11 December 2020 Consultancy.uk
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As England exits a nationwide lockdown for the second time, employees fear that they will be expected to return to a ‘normal’ office routine. According to a new survey, more than half of staff have enjoyed a better work-life balance in 2020 than before the pandemic, while a similar number fear their bosses are out of touch with their expectations regarding their return to the office.

As of December 2nd 2020, England has ended its second national lockdown to enter a three-tier structure where some parts of the country will be allowed to drastically ease their precautionary measures. Under these tiers, people are still being encouraged to work from home if they can, and across all three tiers, gatherings for work purposes are only allowed where they are reasonably necessary. Even so, the new rules could mean that, as the end of the calendar year approaches, many employees could be asked into the office to prepare for the end-of-year and regroup ahead of 2021.

As some companies may look to bring some members of staff back in before the end of the year, nationally representative research from Theta Global Advisors has found that the majority of employees have little desire to return to business as usual. Polling 2,000 UK workers, the study found that 57% of staff do not want to go back to ‘normal’, while a further 60% expect that the future of work will need to change drastically in the wake of the lockdown months, if firms expect to hang on to their best and brightest.

Employers out of touch with staff over return to office

At the same time, only 44% said they do not expect to return to the office in 2020, suggesting that a sizeable portion of employees do suspect their business’ leaders are planning to ask them back. This could prove to be a major problem for staff and the business as a whole, as 35% of respondents said going back to work in a traditional office environment would have a negative impact on their mental health, which in turn will negatively affect their productivity.

In stark contrast from analysis of sentiment among business leaders – which has routinely suggested bosses are fearful that prolonging a return to the office is harming the mental health of employees – many workers feel that on the contrary, they are better off working remotely. Around 52% of those polled said they had enjoyed a better work-life balance in the lockdown months, something that came as a revelation to 40% of staff, who had not realised how bad things had been beforehand. As a result, more than one-third of respondents are now mooting a career change.

According to Theta Global Advisors, 34% of workers are either considering going into business for themselves, or going into consulting or another line of freelance work. Multiple reports have found that freelance consultants have a better sense of work-life balance, which remains the top motivator leading highly skilled employees voluntarily into the world of independence.

However, many employers may have other ideas about the coming return to work. Previous research from Theta Global Advisors found that fewer than half of bosses believe the working environment has changed for the better in the last year, while close to one-third have permanently streamlined their workforce during the coronavirus outbreak.

Many of the staff polled by Theta Global Advisors seem concerned by their boss’ behaviour during the lockdown, and are concerned that business leaders are not acting with their interests at heart. In a previous survey, researchers had already found that 24% said their employer hadn’t explored any flexible working options to help them or their colleagues return to work. This follows from another study from the same researchers, where over half of respondents said the decision makers in their workplace were out of touch with the processes required to ensure their teams work efficiently and productively.

Chris Biggs, Managing Director of Theta Global Advisors, commented, "If you are being encouraged back to work this week, it is perfectly natural to feel some trepidation. However, employers are tentative and want to make sure that their teams are both safe and can continue to work productively this December and into 2021. In order to bring people back to offices safely and with confidence… businesses should look to gauge their employee's attitudes on how they want to work going forward, their concerns and desires. A collaborative approach will be far more beneficial to the company than forcing a decision made onto people without consultation.”