Managing resistance to the return to the office

After more than two years of many sectors working primarily from home, it is natural that employers will be faced with a level of resistance as they begin to try and reconnect their workforce with in-person meetings.


It is interesting to observe the general trends that have taken place throughout the pandemic. Initially when we all had to work remotely, human interaction was something many people craved. There was a real appetite from people wanting to get back to the office and working face to face with their teams. However, as time has gone on and people have got more used to their home working set up and their new routines, the desire to return to the workplace seems to be dwindling.


It’s been hugely challenging for employers who are not only trying to get the right balance for their staff while ensuring they adhere to the relevant safety measures but are repeatedly having to change their plans with the emergence of new Covid variants and subsequently, new legislation.


In the UK, the work from home guidance changed back to work from the office where possible in January but many employers are reporting increasing difficulty around getting their staff to return.


A survey by Bloomberg found that over half of workers would consider quitting before returning to the office.[1]


Here is some advice on the best way for businesses to manage this kind of resistance.


  1. Listen to employee concerns

The pandemic has had a disproportionate affect on people. Some were entitled to furlough, others weren’t, some experienced job losses, others worked all the way through. Many people have been seriously impacted by the illness itself, whether it be directly or within their network, but this isn’t true of everyone. Ultimately, everyone has had a unique experience, and this will affect how they view the return to the office. Listening to the concerns of your workforce is the best place to start. Firstly this will give you an overall picture and some key insights to help shape your decision making and secondly it will make your staff feel valued and appreciated rather than forced into a decision they’ve had no say in.


  1. Leverage data

Utilising the data you’ve collected from your initial consultation with staff along with government and employment legislation will help you make an informed decision on what’s best for your business backed by evidence. There is a huge amount of data which suggests that working in an office environment even for just a few days a week, can help improve mental wellbeing as well as productivity. Having a sense of community is also really beneficial for people yet it is much harder to replicate in a virtual world. Reinforcing these positive messages to staff along with the reassurance that their health and safety is of top importance should help to alleviate any anxieties they may have.



  1. Implement change in phases

If your workforce is reluctant to return to the office full time, a hybrid approach to work might be the best option. If there is anxiety about a lack of space, try bringing people back in smaller groups. You’ll be able to gage the general consensus in the consultation phase and this can help you shape the most effective working model for your staff and the business. Getting to the root cause as to why people are reluctant to return and then addressing these issues head on will help to make the transition smoother and more comfortable for everyone involved. It is also important to communicate planned changes well in advance so people can make provisions should they need to.



  1. Ongoing support

If the last two years have taught us anything it’s the importance of our physical and mental health so as a responsible employer, it’s important to implement long term support strategies to help employees back to the workplace. Listening to the concerns of your workforce and factoring in measures to alleviate them will help position your business as one that genuinely cares about its staff.



All employers have a duty of care to ensure their workforce feel safe and comfortable at work and if as an employer you have taken all the necessary steps to contribute to this and members of staff still refuse to return to the workplace, disciplinary action can be taken.


Finding the right balance that works for the business and its people might take some time so getting the buy in from your employees at each step of the way will make things easier.


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