There’s a double standard about returning to the office, new survey says

Executives aren’t being held to the same standard on in-person work as other employees. Here’s what to do about it.

Thirty-four percent of knowledge workers, those whose jobs center around thinking through tasks,  are back in the office full-time and they aren’t having a good time, according to a new survey from Future Forum. Of more than 10,000 knowledge workers surveyed across the world, fully in-person workers reported significantly lower work environment satisfaction, higher stress levels and worse work-life balance than those who are still hybrid or fully remote.

But those trends don’t hold true when we look purely at the executive ranks.

Only 19% of executives head into the office every day, the survey found, compared to 35% of non-executives — even though 21% of both executives and non-executives say they want to be in the office five days a week.

And despite having jobs that are usually considered more stressful, executives reported much less stress than other workers the study. Non-executives report about twice as much stress, and are 40% less happy with their work-life balance than their bosses.

This is a problem.

“Employees have clearly proven that they can get the job done while having flexibility in their work lives,” says Deborah Lovich, a managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group. “If executives roll back this flexibility—or put off key decisions on the options that employees will have going forward—they’re setting themselves up for a wave of departures.”

Indeed, uncertainty can lead to attrition. The survey reports that workers who say their employers are not “transparent about their future-of-work plans” are more than three times as likely to say they will “definitely” look for a new job in the next year.

Communicating clear in-office expectations

The findings here serve as a wakeup call, not only for executives, but for the communicators who craft executive messages outlining  the expectations around where and when everyone will work.

The first and most obvious note is that every employee should be subject to the rules. While executives may have more travel, if they’re in town and they expect workers to be in the office, they should be there too. Leading from the front is critical to showing that the entire organization is working toward these goals.

As a comms pro, you can help support this work by sharing photos of executives in the office to your intranet or social media channels. Weave positive stories about being at the office into executive communications to show that they’re walking the talk and putting in the same time and effort as everyone else.

Second, craft clear guidance detailing what you expect from your workers. The last two years have been difficult and full of constantly shifting expectations; everyone understands that sometimes things change with little notice. This is all the more reason why you should have as much of a plan for the future as you can, communicating those expectations and the reasons behind them to let employees know there is intention behind your decisions. Workers today won’t just accept “because I said so.” Build the case for a return to office or set parameters around how hybrid will work.

Setting standards, communicating them transparently and holding everyone accountable to them will always remain a good communications strategy — whatever change may come.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.