Two years after the pandemic's onset, in-office work is slowly picking up. Today, half of business owners and employees say they're working full-time in person compared to just 35% at the height of COVID. On the other hand, this does not reveal if all the employees are satisfied with the conditions of work, and what the employers' concerns are.
A new survey from US-based insurance and financial services company Nationwide revealed that as most business owners expect to be working in person full-time a year from now – 1-in-3 owners are nervous about announcing their company's return-to-office decisions and the impact it could have on retention.
Flexibility is particularly important to younger workers as 62% of Gen Z employees and 51% of millennial employees would consider leaving based solely on their employer's return-to-work plans, according to the study.
The good news for business owners – most employees (62%) wouldn't consider leaving based solely on their employer's plans.
"For some workers, the ideal environment is in the office while for others, it's virtual. There are also many who want a combination of the two," said Nationwide chief human resources officer Vinita Clements. "At Nationwide, we believe it's most important to focus on our culture and provide the type of flexibility that allows professionals to be their most productive, creative, and collaborative from wherever they work."
Businesses, employees disconnected on post-COVID perks
Nationwide's latest Agency Forward survey suggests the Great Resignation trend may be cooling as few business owners reported increased resignations over the past six months and only 4% of employees say they started a new full-time job during that period. However, employee retention challenges are still weighing on business owners after ballooning during the pandemic.
Many owners also appear out of touch with why their employees are leaving. Three-in-10 owners say resignations are due to employees wanting to pursue a passion and 28% believe employees were just burnt out or didn't have enough work flexibility. But employees cite better job security, stronger cultural fit, or more competitive financial incentives as their top reasons for seeking a new job.
"Three-quarters of US workers received flexibility with how and when they worked during the pandemic, and of those who didn't have flexibility, 42% considered leaving their jobs as a result," said Linda Stueber, senior vice president for Commercial Lines at Nationwide. "Employers who are able to demonstrate continued flexibility and personalisation for employees in their work will be most successful in today's competitive labour market."
Employees, managers prefer in-person work post COVID, but flexibility critical
As remote work continues across much of the globe, employees and business owners are surprisingly on the same page in believing that in-person work provides the most value to the organisation. While nearly half of employees agree with that sentiment, they're still split on where they want to work post-pandemic:
- 35% of employees would prefer full-time, in-person work
- 35% would like a hybrid work environment
- 30% would prefer full-time remote work
Gen Z and Baby Boomer employees are more likely than average to prefer full-time in-person work, while millennial employees are more likely to prefer full-time remote work.
About half (49%) of business owners expect to be operating full-time-in-person a year from now.
Despite this, leaning into flexibility could be the key to retaining and attracting top talent to their companies. Only 36% of businesses are currently offering flexibility for employees to choose where they work or when they work.
Another 31% have no plans to consider offering flexibility, including 43% of small business owners. Meanwhile, 68% of employees consider flexibility with how or when they work as an important factor when evaluating jobs.
"With work from home, work from office, and dozens of hybrid work options in between likely to remain part of the modern work environment, it's a good time for employers to really think about the kinds of work that can be done in an office and what can be done remotely," said Stueber. "Having this clarity and looking for ways to provide flexibility can help business owners attract and retain employees and keep their long-term business plans on track."
Nationwide and Edelman Data & Intelligence conducted a national online survey of 1,000 US employees in an office setting, 400 independent insurance agents, 400 middle market business owners, and 399 small business owners to understand what employment and workplace shifts are happening. The study was fielded from February 1 to February 20, 2022.