7 Factors to Consider When Developing a Return-to-Work Plan

The view of the office looks a little different from the top. 

Many executives are ready to go back to in-person work, but most employees don’t feel the same way. According to the Future Forum Pulse study, executives who work remotely are nearly three times more likely than employees to prefer returning to the office full-time. More than three-quarters of employees (76%) do not want to return to full-time office work.

Experts are calling this expectations gap “the Great Disconnect,” and it’s a lot more serious and potentially costly than you might think. This isn’t just a difference of opinion or an “agree to disagree” situation. According to a recent survey, 40% of workers would rather quit their jobs than go back to the office full-time. Could you risk losing close to half of your staff?

When you add up all the turnover costs – which experts estimate to be 33% to two times the employee’s annual salary, depending on the complexity of the position – you can see how crucial it is to get your return-to-work plan right. 

Before you decide to bring your employees back to the office full-time, here are a few important talent factors you should consider. 

A disenfranchised workforce.

Increasingly, younger workers feel like they don’t have the ability or opportunities to voice their ideas and opinions or fully participate in important work-related decisions, many of which relate to their wellbeing and interests. As a result, they feel a lot less engaged and excited about work than older generations.

Knowing this, you can’t create a return-to-work policy in a silo. Instead, ask your workforce what would need to change or be different for them to return to the office, listen to their answers, and consider their feedback when developing a strategy. Your employees don’t want to go back to normal if ‘normal’ wasn’t working for them. But they’ll be a lot more likely to stick around if you listen to them and quickly make changes to suit their needs.

Unprecedented levels of turnover.

This year, so many employees left their jobs that experts gave the trend a nickname: “The Great Resignation.” And the movement doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The Pulse study, which surveyed over 10,000 workers, found that 57% of knowledge workers are open to looking for a new job in the next year. 

This is why retention needs to be top-of-mind when creating a return-to-work plan. Ordering employees back to the office full-time without any flexibility is a risky move since your most talented workers can easily jump ship to other organizations with more hybrid work arrangements.

A younger generation that prefers flexible, freelance, and work-anywhere freedoms.

We might’ve been forced to work from home, but now that workers have had a taste of a more flexible approach, they don’t want to give it up. This is especially true for younger workers. Hybrid work gives employees more control over their days while reducing burnout triggers like long commutes and expenses like buying lunch. 

Still, working from home does come with some downsides for this demographic. Your Gen-Z workers are just starting their careers, and remote work can make it harder for them to build valuable connections and mentor relationships. Plus, it’s a lot harder to work from home in a small apartment or when you’re living with roommates or family, as is the case for many young people.  

Every generation is grappling with the return to the office in different ways, and as an employer, you need to consider all of their desires. Ask yourself: how will your return-to-work plan meet the needs of your early-career talent? Working parents? Gen X workers? Marginalized folks? The list goes on.

Smaller college and university graduate talent pools. 

Replacing employees who don’t want to return to the office with new graduates, won’t be so easy in 2022. College and university enrolment levels have hit all-time lows, and experts say we’re heading toward the largest two-year decrease in at least half a century. While COVID-related changes in family or financial circumstances are significant factors, skyrocketing student debt costs have impacted students’ desires for post-secondary education for years. Plus, the pandemic has led many people to reevaluate their lives and career paths, leading more young people to opt for entrepreneurship over traditional employment.

When fewer students go to college, fewer students graduate, get job training and move on to higher-paying jobs. All of this could have a massive impact on your talent pipeline, which is another reason why your return-to-work plan needs to focus on retention. With less supply, you need to put more effort into keeping the people you have.

​​Prime age employment levels are still lower than before the pandemic.

The pandemic disproportionately pushed women out of the workforce, and 35% of women who lost their jobs are still unemployed today. This is a large group of people who are willing and able to work, so as an employer, it’s in your best interest to help them rejoin the workforce (and keep the women you have).

Remote work opportunities (49%), more flexible hours (42%), and affordable and accessible child care (24%) are the core factors women need to return to the workforce, and we highly encourage you to incorporate these elements into your return-to-work strategy.

Rise in wages.

Wages in 2021 have grown at the fastest rate in 35 years, mainly because employers are struggling to find talent. It’s a candidate’s market, and big salaries can help get fresh talent in the door. 

But remember: salary and wages aren’t the only way to compete. Your return-to-work plan can help you attract and retain top talent by showing both current and potential employees how you’re listening to them and investing in their wellbeing and overall experience.

Job openings outnumber the unemployed.

This year, job openings outnumbered the unemployed by more than 2 million as companies struggled to fill a record number of vacancies. The trend has mystified business leaders and economists. In the Before Times, having a big pool of job opportunities and many unemployed workers to fill them would’ve led to an employment boom.

Unfortunately, this isn’t happening for several reasons. First, we’re not out of the woods with the pandemic yet, and many people – especially those at a higher risk of severe illness or who frequently interact with high-risk people – don’t want to risk exposure for their jobs. 

Technological advancements have also made it harder for employers to find skilled workers. Lastly, many parents are still struggling with childcare and schools, especially as COVID outbreaks prompt quarantines and remote schooling. This makes it difficult for parents of children with uncertain schedules to return to the workforce. 

With all these factors in mind, your return-to-work plan needs to address safety and technological concerns and include contingency plans for parents whose schedules may need to change on short notice. 

Don’t gamble with your return-to-work plan.

You can’t force your employees to return to the office full or part-time and call it a day. You need to look at the issue from multiple perspectives, as it can impact many facets of your employee experience – from recruitment and hiring to retention and engagement. Your young employees’ wants and needs will vary greatly from those of your mid-career or senior talent, and a successful return-to-work plan needs to work for multiple diverse stakeholder groups. 

It’s a complex task, but we can guide you through it. Through a change management approach, we can help you develop a super-clear return-to-work policy so you can communicate it properly through the lens of your Employer Brand. We’ll also help you define the roles in the change and build an engagement plan for different audiences. For example, your leaders need to buy into the policy, but they’ll also be driving and experiencing it, so they’ll need education and support with all of these priorities.

Our lives have changed – permanently. There’s no going back to normal, but we can help you define a better ‘new normal’ and create a return-to-work plan that works for everybody. 

About Us 

Blu Ivy Group is a global leader in employer branding, organizational culture, and recruitment marketing. We help organizations across the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors build extraordinary employee experiences, magnetic employer brands, and high-performance cultures.    

From C-Suite to Employer Brand and Talent Acquisition leadership, we partner with our clients to transform their organizations and design the most compelling workplaces of the future. 

For inquiries, please contact sparker@bluivygroup.com. 

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