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5 reasons employees don’t want to return to the office and how to address them

Not everyone’s excited to return to the office. Here are 5 reasons why employees don’t want to return to work and what you can do to support them.

Many companies have brought their employees back to the office this year. While some people feel excited to return back to a sense of normalcy, many have concerns about what this shift will be like. And some of the reasons employees are hesitant to return to the workplace aren’t so obvious.

In our recent At Work workplace trends report, we discovered employees’ top 5 deal breakers for returning to the office. And in this post, you’ll learn what those reasons are as well as hear advice from workplace leaders on how to address them.

5 reasons employees don’t want to return to the workplace

1. The commute is too long and too expensive

No one likes sitting in traffic, especially employees who are being called back to the office. According to the At Work report, 50% of employees cite a long or costly commute as a deal breaker for returning to work. Many of them feel that the time spent commuting could be spent working, enjoying time with friends and family, or resting. 

How to address this

There aren’t a lot of ways to get rid of a commute entirely, but there are ways that workplace leaders can make the commute less stressful for employees. You can offer a more flexible work schedule. Encourage your employees to come in after peak traffic hours or leave the office before traffic builds. 

Also, consider offering carpooling programs or a shuttle service to pick up employees who live far away. That way, employees can take advantage of carpool lanes and distribute the task of driving among their coworkers. The key here is to offer ways for employees to find balance with those long and expensive commutes.

2. There’s no flexibility in work days

Another reason why employees are hesitant to return to work is because they’re worried their hours and days are going to look the same as they did before the pandemic: the traditional 9-5 weekday schedule. A benefit of working from home is that work days can look very different. At home, there’s no desk that employees are bound to sit at or a manager looking over their shoulder. According to our report, 35% of employees cite the lack of flexibility in work hours or days in the office as a major deal breaker.

How to address this

By emphasizing the flexibility of a hybrid work model, you can assure employees that they won’t lose their flexibility. Hybrid work models allow employees to schedule onsite and remote days based on their needs. They can come into the office on meeting days and stay at home on days they need to focus on getting tasks done. This model can actually empower more flexibility for employees and encourage a better work-life balance. 

You should also encourage employees to choose flexible hours when they are in the office. Many workplace managers don’t expect their employees to be clocking in exactly at 9am and leaving no earlier than 5pm. In fact, less than a third of executives would view employees coming in late (31%) or leaving early (32%) as negative.

3. Slow or outdated technology 

It’s difficult to work in an office with frequent Wi-Fi shortages, no tool to book meeting rooms, or outdated check-in procedures. Employees who work from home are able to control the quality of their technology, or they don’t have to deal with outdated workplace technology at all. According to our report, 34% of employees cite slow or outdated technology as a deal breaker for returning to the workplace.

How to address this

Take a look at your current workplace technology and see where you might be able to make improvements. For example, do you have a tool that helps employees schedule their days to collaborate with teammates onsite? Do you have a tool that lets employees book their desks? A workplace platform that connects all your workplace tools together into one seamless experience can help your employees feel more confident about coming into the office. 

4. Their coworkers are too chatty

One of the best parts of being back in an office is getting to socialize with coworkers and work besties again. But what happens when the office is too social? Many employees have gotten used to the quiet of their home offices. They feel less distracted and better able to focus on what they need to get done. In fact, 33% of employees cite chatty or difficult coworkers as a deal breaker for returning to the office.

How to address this

A big reason leaders are calling employees back into the workplace is for socialization and community building opportunities. 46% of executives believe that the purpose of the workplace is to build relationships. But it’s important to give your employees quiet spaces in the office for them to get heads-down work done or just get a break from some of the chatter. 

This is where efficient space management comes in. Along with bigger conference rooms, add single-person pods or phone booth style meeting rooms in your office. Have couches and comfortable chairs spread out in the office. Plus, make it really easy to book those spaces with a conference room booking tool. That way employees can come into the office and quickly book a quiet pod for a few hours if they feel overwhelmed by the noise.  

5. Their colleagues aren’t onsite

Imagine getting ready to come into the office with a full plan of who you’re going to collaborate and meet with, and then entering the office to find it empty. Employees may feel like they wasted their day coming into the office when the people they need to work with aren’t there. 27% of employees say it’s a deal breaker to come into the office and not find the people who they need to work with. How can employees collaborate in the office if their colleagues aren’t there?

How to address this

In a hybrid work model, it’s natural to have days where employees’ teammates are in on different days. But there are ways you can help employees coordinate their schedules. With an employee scheduling tool, your employees can see a list of all their coworkers, organize them by project or team, and view what days they’re coming in. Employees can then book a desk near them to maximize collaboration opportunities. 

It’s also important to encourage employees to communicate with each other. Employees should update each other if they plan not to come in on a team building day. Good communication will ensure that everyone is informed and able to make a decision about when to come into the workplace.

How are workplace leaders helping employees overcome their deal breakers for returning to the office?

We were curious to hear what real workplace leaders were doing in their organizations to help their employees feel more comfortable and excited to return to the office. So we decided to ask them! 

We chatted with Emily Day, Director of Workplace Experience at Hashicorp, Max Cardinale, Vice President at Thermal Shipping Solutions, and Annette Reavis, Chief People Officer at Envoy. They each shared their unique strategies for helping employees overcome their barriers to returning to the office. Take a listen.

At Work: How are you helping employees overcome their deal breakers for returning to the office?

Getting employees excited to return to work starts with understanding what’s holding them back. The workplace should be a place where people want to go to work. By offering solutions like the ones above and leading with compassion, you can help people feel empowered and excited to return to work.

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Maria Akhter
Author Bio Maria Akhter

Maria is a content marketing manager at Envoy, where she helps workplace leaders build a workplace their people love. Outside of work, her passions include exploring the outdoors, checking out local farmers' markets, and drinking way too much coffee.