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

Some employees aren’t excited about returning on-site. Take a look at some of the surprising reasons why and what you can do to bring people back.

The height of the pandemic is now behind us (fingers crossed). People have returned to indoor dining, concerts, and the workplace. Companies like Google, Meta, and Apple have already kicked off their return to office plans, and employees have mixed reactions to it.

While some feel excited to return back to the office, many still have concerns about how their companies are going to handle the return. And some of the reasons employees are hesitant to return to the workplace aren’t so obvious.

In this post, we’ll reveal the most common reasons employees don’t want to return to the office and some strategies you can try to make your employees feel empowered and supported during this transition. 

1. They feel more productive at home

There’s no denying that people can be productive from anywhere. In fact, 67% of people who worked from home during the pandemic felt more productive working at home than in an office. One reason for that is fewer distractions, like talkative coworkers or loud noises in a metro area. 

In our recent Return to Work survey, we found out that 31% of survey respondents felt their biggest dealbreaker of returning to the office was challenging or chatty coworkers. A lot of them feel that they can be just as productive at home with fewer distractions.

So employees are asking the million-dollar question. If you can be as or more productive at home, then why should you have to come into the office? 

How to address this

By emphasizing the flexibility of a hybrid work model, you can assure employees that they won’t have to lose their productive work-from-home (WFH) days. Hybrid work models allow employees to schedule on-site and WFH 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. Plus, productivity can take different forms. Collaborating in person is a productive way to innovate new ideas.

Ask your employees what they need to feel productive in the office. It might be a variety of different working spaces or a designated desk. With effective space management, you can create spaces such as quiet pods or comfy lounge areas. The key here is making sure your employees’ needs are being heard and acted on.

2. They’re burnt out

What looks like productivity could actually just be burnout in disguise. For some people, remote work has meant longer hours and more stress at home. Commuting to work and socializing with colleagues now feels taxing and unnecessary. Burnout can take many forms, but it can be a leading driver of employees feeling hesitant to return to the office. 

How to address this

There are plenty of ways you can reduce burnout in your employees. Here are a few:

  • Create flexible working schedules. The traditional 9-5 working style isn’t necessary. Instead, create a culture where your employees can work the hours they need to get work done. This will help them balance work and life and avoid burnout.  
  • Build policies to support vacation time. Make sure your employees know they can take time off if they’re feeling burnt out. Some people might even need to take time off before returning to the office so they come back refreshed. 
  • Offer mental health and wellness programs. Employees coming out of a pandemic will have different health needs. Put your employees’ mental health first by offering stipends for gyms, yoga studios, and fitness classes. Also, offer health benefits with mental health services such as telehealth and counseling.   

3. They’re concerned about their health and safety

For the last two years, we’ve quarantined ourselves, masked up, gotten vaccinated, and everything in between to keep ourselves and those around us safe from COVID-19. Employees are nervous to venture outside of their home offices again and expose themselves to potential risks in the office or on public transportation. 

How to address this

Companies will have to go above and beyond to ensure their employees know they will be safe in the workplace. This could look like daily health checks, extra sanitation stations, mask mandates, or a vaccination verification process

Frequently communicating your safety policies and updating them according to federal and state guidelines will go a long way in making your employees feel comfortable and cared for in the workplace. To help employees navigate anxiety about public transportation, consider offering a commute stipend that encourages employees to take a safer method of transportation. 

Bonus: stock up your office with snacks, coffee, and lunches so employees don’t have to venture to more public places when they’re on-site.

4. They have a pandemic pet

Around one in five Americans adopted a furry friend during the pandemic to keep them company and help them deal with stress. So many pet adoptions were taking place that shelters were running out of animals to support the demand. With a new pet, comes new pet responsibilities. Employees might worry about pet care while they’re in the office and changing up their pet’s routine.

How to address this

If your workplace allows pets in the building, consider a pet policy that encourages employees to bring their companions to work. You can also include a pet care stipend to further support new pet owners and their unique challenges. And of course, flexible work hours will help. If an employee needs to step out of the office at lunch to take their dog on a walk, support them to build that flex time into their schedule. 

5. They don’t know any of their coworkers IRL

Since the start of the pandemic, 20% of employees changed careers. With high rates of quitting and hiring, there’s a huge amount of people who have started new jobs remotely. 

Since many new hires were onboarded virtually, they haven’t had a chance to get a tour of the office, meet their coworkers in person, or get a sense of the in-office company culture. They might feel shy or nervous to socialize in person. They’ve probably also gotten used to doing remote work.

How to address this

Workplace connections play a big role in encouraging people to return. In fact, 52% of employees will consider who else will be on-site before heading in. Consider scheduling office tours and on-site onboarding programs during the first few weeks of your reopening. You can also encourage team leaders to plan happy hours and social events. 

It’s also important to create an efficient and transparent method for employees to see who’s coming into work and schedule their desks near them. Employees will have opportunities to break the ice and build close connections if they work near their teammates. 

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. 

Want to learn more ways to get employees excited about working on-site? Check out what our latest At Work survey revealed about how companies are incentivizing folks to choose the workplace.

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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.