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Who’s working where?
CNBC reports that 90% of businesses with office space plan to have return-to-office policies by the end of 2024, and 50% already do. By many accounts, it's not going smoothly – with efforts marked by lack of compliance, mistrust, and unfortunate side effects. According to Gartner's HR Priorities Survey, only 26% of organizations say their employees are complying with RTO policies. Some employees and commentators believe that strict return-to-office policies are downsizing in disguise. Reporting out of the UK suggests that stricter RTO policies are already resulting in fewer women being hired at tech companies.
What should the work week actually look like? Economist Nicholas Bloom famously declared that the five-day office week is dead and the Flex Report shows the number of US companies requiring full time work in office is actually down 20% from the start of the year. Recent data from Gallup says that the sweet spot for engagement is hybrid work, with 2-3 days in the office showing a reduction in burnout and turnover compared with other configurations. Of course, this doesn’t answer the question. As HBR points out, the optimal setup will vary greatly by industry, organization, team, and individual and leaders need the skills to navigate the nuance.
Managers caught in the crossfire
Once again, we find managers in an impossible position: trying to enforce these policies, while also retaining their people. Managers (who also don’t want to return to the office) continue to be chronically under-equipped for such challenging dynamics. A brand new study from Chartered Management Institute reveals that 82% of managers in the UK reached their position without any management or leadership training.
Of course it’s nearly impossible for managers to stabilize their teams when the workforce keeps turning over, so it’s at least good news that recent data from ADPshows that the financial incentives for job hopping are subsiding. To guard against RTO related attrition, Quartz shared an interesting retention strategy for managers: instead of exit interviews, perform on-going "stay interviews" and get in front of satisfaction.
According to The Economist, the staggering 68% burnout rate for managers is in part a reflection of the fact that managers have much more interaction with people than they once did. HBR elaborates further on the phenomenon of social burnout, exploring "microstresses" caused by increased collaboration and pointing to return-to-office policies as a new flashpoint. The Gartner study shows that 75% of HR leaders think their managers are overwhelmed and HP, who recently published their Work Relationship Index, tells us only 27% of knowledge workers have a healthy relationship to work.
From tension to transformation
The latest Mental Health at Work report from Mindshare Partners shows that culture change is the most impactful way to support employees’ mental health, performing higher than self-care and direct treatment strategies. The Global Head of People at Australian software company Canva recently shared their secret to scaling empathy in their culture (spoiler alert, it's coaching).
Recent thinking on culture transformation makes it feel a bit more accessible than it once did. McKinsey compiled research breaking down the key elements for successful transformation. In HBS Working Knowledge, the coauthors of a new book, Move Fast and Fix Things, present a provocative transformation process that happens over a week. In a recent webinar for MIT Sloan Management, Per Hugander discusses his work creating culture transformation through skills training.
Wherever you or your organization is on the RTO journey, it's a good moment to remember our collective humanity as we forge the path ahead. We recommend revisiting last year's Hudson Coaching Conversation: Humanizing Work for a thoughtful discussion.