Disconnect on return to office could spark global wave of resignations

Companies must come up with hybrid solutions to retain talent in a post-pandemic operating model, new report says

Doug Hassebroek eats breakfast while on a video conference call working from home during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S., April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs
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The widening disconnect between employers and employees about a possible return to the office after Covid-19 and the emergence of a new hybrid working model could lead to a wave of resignations and increase worker disengagement, according to a new report by global consultancy McKinsey.

“In the enthusiasm about the return from remote working, business leaders run the risk of actually increasing the disconnect between themselves and their people,” McKinsey said in the report.

“The idea that we will cross a finish line and suddenly be done with all the hard stuff seems to exist only in the minds of senior leaders.”

Globally, employees are currently leaving their jobs at much higher rates than normal. About 42 per cent of remote workers said if their company does not continue to offer options to work from home in the long term, they will look for a job that does, according to a March 2021 survey by financial services company Prudential.

This signals that a “war for talent” may be looming if companies do not address workers’ needs, the survey, which polled 2,000 adults working full-time, found.

The disconnect between management and employees was also evident in the findings of separate surveys conducted by McKinsey.

More than three quarters of C-suite executives surveyed in May by the consultancy said they expected the typical “core” employee to be back in the office for three or more days a week.

While they realise that the work-from-home experiment was effective, they also believe it hurt organisational culture and belonging, the report said.

Company leaders have good reasons for wanting workers back in the office, according to a separate July report by McKinsey.

“As the pandemic dragged on, people’s sense of belonging and social connections suffered, especially among newer employees. Many women left the workforce, widening the gender gap. Mental health issues, grief, anxiety and burnout are on the rise,” the consultancy said.

“Reversing these trends is critical.”

Meanwhile, about three quarters of the 5,043 employees McKinsey polled globally said they want to work from home for two or more days a week while more than half prefer at least three days of remote work.

“An office-heavy return may set back corporate diversity, equity and inclusion goals that leaders have pushed for years,” the consultancy said.

“More women could leave the workplace if they lose flexibility, while diverse employees and parents with young children are more worried than others that a full return will have a negative impact on their mental health.”

Employers need to come up with hybrid solutions to retain talent in the post-pandemic working model, McKinsey said

“Instead of directing a return to the office, leaders would be wise to focus on deeper listening and meeting their workforces where they are today. It will be important for leaders to acknowledge, for instance, that they don’t have all the answers – as their companies transition to hybrid working models, they will still be trying to discover what the right longer-term working model [the one that works for most employees] will be,” the report said.

“It will also be important for leaders to signal that they hope to make their employees partners in designing the future of how their companies work.”

The consultancy suggested three actions for employers to reduce the disconnect. Senior managers were urged to make it clear that settling on the next operating model is expected to take years and is a separate effort from the near-term return to the office.

They were also encouraged to empathise with what the workforce is trying to convey and not repeat what they say explicitly, and to be sincere about experimenting and learning from the outcomes of their experiments.

Top leaders must lead by example in showing that feedback and expressions of vulnerability are welcomed, the report said.

Listening tours, fireside chats, ask-me-anything sessions, reverse town halls and the sharing of personal stories can help build a safe environment for employees to connect, the McKinsey report said.

“If leaders don’t accept the fact that they don’t know the shape of the future of hybrid working, their talent will keep walking out the door. They can embrace this singular opportunity for change and work with their people to discover a new and better way to work,” the consultancy said.

Updated: August 10, 2021, 7:45 AM