Workers balk at returning to office

Employers unsure how to manage workers’ reluctance to return to the office now face two additional uncertainties: the possibility of a recession and the probability of another wave of Covid infections.

In a widely reported survey, Global analytics firm Basking reports nearly 50% of office visits this year have been for only one day a week. When Yelp, a company which publishes crowd-sourced reviews about businesses, surveyed its employees about coming to the office, 93% of its employees and managers said they are just as effective working remotely. Only 1% of Yelp’s 4,400 employees have elected to return to the office daily.

Similarly, in a survey by ADP Research, which monitors labor market and employee performance, nearly 65% of workers said they would look for a new job if their employer requires them to be in the office full-time. In the same vein, The Future Forum, developed by workplace-messaging platform Slack, surveyed more than 10,000 workers globally in the summer of 2021 and found a deep split among executives and rank-and-file employees. Nearly 45% of executives said they want to come to the office daily; only 17% of other employees said the same.

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Some CEOs say a recession, with its threat of layoffs, would change attitudes. “I think as you go into a recession and people fear that they might not have a job, that will bring people back to the office,” says Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins. “The employees will recognize as we go into a recession, or as things get a little tighter, that you have to do what it takes to keep your job and to earn a living,” he noted in an interview with Bloomberg.

Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi told MarketWatch “if times get very tough, you will see more and more people be asked to come back to work. Many CEOs I talk to believe face-to-face trumps virtual. As the economy shrinks a bit, and people move from hiring to now cutting jobs, and a possible recession, you might see more of a move back to work.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index rose 9.1% over the past 12 months, a 41-year high. “Inflation will come down at some point, but it is unlikely to be a soft landing without economic pain,” sums up Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary and a prominent economist who’s been predicting a recession.

An economic downturn is not the only cloud on the horizon. According to the CDC, hospitalizations due to COVID have doubled since April because of new subvariants. The New York Times reports the Biden administration is preparing for the possibility 100 million Americans will be infected with the coronavirus this fall and winter, That’s lower than the number of Americans who were infected during the Omicron wave in December and January, but still amounts to roughly 30% of the U.S. population.