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How to get employees resistant to in-person work to return to office

The majority of those able thoroughly enjoy remote work, but some companies are wanting to return to pre-pandemic office life.

Worker happy to be in office

As some employers start to ask workers to return to offices, HR managers are left to fill empty seats of those who refuse.

What’s an owner to do?

Ask the Evil HR Lady, who addresses just this in a post everyone in this situation should read.

First, kindness goes a long way.

As The Evil HR Lady says, “you can require employees to return to the office (as long as working from home isn’t a legitimate ADA accommodation). You can absolutely fire people who refuse to come in. You can slash salaries to minimum wage if people want to work from home. That’s all legal.”

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But in the end, the HR managers will be left with the headache of trying to find people to work in positions that were filled by excellent employees who chose to respond “no thanks” to the demand-style of leadership.

Instead, listen to your workforce – not a fake listening session that’s truly a talking session – but actually listen and approach the situation with results in mind.

If everyone comes back, but you end up losing some of your best people to remote work elsewhere, you might have won the battle, but you definitely lost the war.

As the Evil HR Lady says “evaluate everyone’s temperature.”

Stop wasting time trying to prove people wrong. Instead, draw people into your vision. Make your employees part of your solution-based approach. The Evil HR Lady says, “Make the office someplace people want to be.”

“This means your focus should be on building a collaborative environment where people benefit from being around each other,” she says. “As you will undoubtedly have people quit over this new rule, make sure the new hires truly want to be in the office.”

It’s incredibly hard to be the HR manager in a situation where you can be pitted in the middle between an owner and their employees.

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As the Evil HR Lady says in her article, the first order of business needs to be to decide if the boss is really all-in on everyone returning to work. If they are, they understand they will lose workers, and the HR manager can’t magically make that reality disappear.

There are real reasons people want to work remotely. Look to the employee petition to Apple to see what many of those are. It’s still an expert’s market right now, and if owners push, some people will leave to go to companies that value them as people, not just a cog in the wheel of world domination.

One of the reasons employees are asking to work from home is the exorbitant cost of child care. Women especially are currently being forced to leave the workforce in huge numbers because of the prohibitive costs of daycare and preschool.

Also, workers with disabilities learned they can be incredibly successful with their jobs from home, something many were told could not be done pre-pandemic. If the job success is there, can working from home be an accommodation?

Still, a quick look through current news stories shows bosses who are doubling down on all employees returning to the office. And that choice is not all doom and gloom.

Know your goals and know your power. Some locations are in different positions than others right now. A miscalculation on this can create catastrophe for bosses. It can also lead to HR managers leaving. The stress of the job is huge. If bosses know the goals for return to work it will help make the HR manager’s job easier and make it easier for all involved to make the workplace somewhere people want to return. The last thing an employer wants is a company filled with quiet quitters.

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What not to do:

The following scenario played out in case after case over the last few months. A friend worked more than she ever had with incredible success during the pandemic work-from-home shutdown. After months of working constantly, she learned to set boundaries for her workday. Even then, she and her team saw massive success in their outcomes. As vaccines rolled out and people started returning to work, she and her teammates thought their curriculum development team would probably do better continuing their current remote model.

Their boss, in all his great and glorious wisdom, told them they were just lazy and didn’t want to work. Again, they’d seen their greatest success ever, and he discounted months of a huge workload by committed employees who had spent time and money creating work-from-home spaces that supported their success – success that was personal but also for his company.

Needless to say, the team reported back to the office because they were not given a choice. But they all also found other jobs. Some of the jobs team members found were remote. Others were actually in office, but all of them left the environment where a boss who had no clue about what they’d given up to create success for the job belittled their accomplishments during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic (we hope!).

The pandemic changed the world. There is no complete return to what once was. Knowing why you want employees to return to the office and listening to your teams on the subject will go a long way to finding success back in the office.

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Mary Beth Lee retired from teaching in Texas this year after 28 years as a student media adviser. She spends her time these days reading, writing, fighting for public education and enjoying the empty nester life in Downtown Fort Worth.


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