HR Experts Discuss Employee Engagement Trends During the Gartner ReimagineHR Conference in Sydney, December 4-5
Organizations that enforce mandated return-to-office policies can negatively impact employee productivity, intent to stay and performance when not done strategically and transparently, according to Gartner, Inc. Instead, organizations should focus on three strategies to successfully encourage employees into the office: aligning purpose to place; motivating with transparency; and making inclusion foundational.
Speaking at the Gartner ReimagineHR Conference in Sydney on December 4, Neal Woolrich, director, advisory in the Gartner HR practice said, “Return-to-office mandates can feel like an about-face in employee flexibility, autonomy, and well-being when it lacks meaning and reason, which is starkly at odds with the more human-centric corporate purpose many organizations have shifted towards.”
According to Woolrich, “Organizations have attempted to entice people back into the office with free meals, office perks or flexible working hours, but these gestures haven’t been enough. Instead, employers must take the best parts of the office experience and evolve the space from a place anchored to work, to one centered on people and how they feel when they come into an office.”
Align Purpose to Place
Gartner’s 3Q23 Global Talent Monitor (GTM) survey reveals Australian employees say location is the number one priority when looking for a new job. The biggest hurdle employers face with return-to-office mandates is justifying why being in the office matters, when the work does not change.
“We keep hearing that most employees feel more productive working from home, so it’s baffling the lack of rational reasoning given by so many organizations in mandating employees return to the office,” said Woolrich.
In addition, 48% of employees believe their office policies prioritize what leaders want instead of what employees need, according to a June 2023 Gartner survey of 3,493 employees. Gartner recommends leaders create a workplace that is purpose-led, not work-driven. This means aligning the purpose of the day’s work to the right place, giving employees a clear understanding of how tasks undertaken in the office complement those that can be done remotely.
Motivate With Transparency, Not Mandates
According to the June survey, more than 50% of employees choose not to go into the office because they do not see the point, with many believing they are just as productive and collaborative when working remotely. Rather than mandating office returns, organization’s need to motivate them with open and honest communication to encourage office attendance, otherwise the trust deficit between employees and management will only erode further.
“Leaders need to respect their employees enough to share the real drivers behind the policies,” said Woolrich. “It’s important to provide a clear and valid rationale to help employees make sense of the change, so they can understand what, how and why decisions are being made.”
Make Inclusion Foundational
The GTM survey reveals Australian employee sentiment around workplace culture and inclusion has continued to decline, despite the efforts of organizations to bring diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into the spotlight.
Mandating onsite presence for everyone may appear to create a more equitable environment, but the June survey reveals that remote workers actually experience 10% higher inclusion than onsite workers. This is partially due to them feeling more authentic in a remote environment, where they have privacy and control over their workspace.
Gartner recommends building an inclusive work environment that meets both the emotional and physical needs of employees to help them feel connected when in the office. This will result in huge benefits for talent and the business in terms of higher engagement, performance and intent to stay.
“Breaking away from the prevailing mindset of office uniformity and conformity is key,” said Woolrich. “Organizations must offer an employee-centred workspace where workers feel as comfortable and connected in the office, as they do at home. This requires understanding and empathizing with employees’ unique situations and asking what’s working, what’s not, and what can be done differently.”