Execs to workers: Back to the office for thee, but not for me

Top brass are less likely to commute in every day, according to a survey by Slack, which claims workers are seeing more stress as a result of being required to go back into the office.

from home to hybrid office2
HP, Inc.

Many employees may be returning to the office after a long period of remote work, but it appears the same rules don’t always apply to senior executives.

That’s according to a survey of 10,818 workers by collaboration software vendor Slack. The latest Pulse Survey from Slack’s Future Forum research consortium indicated that non-executive employees (35%) are almost twice as likely as senior staffers (19%) to work from the office five days a week.

The report called that dichotomy a “troubling double-standard,” with only around a one-fifth (21%) of both execs and non-execs saying a full-time return to the office is their preferred choice.

The survey involved knowledge workers across the US, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. and was conducted between Jan. 27 and  Feb. 21.

While many companies are opting for hybrid remote strategies as offices reopen, several high-profile businesses including JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have taken a harder line, requiring a large percentage of their staff to commute in five days a week.

Overall, around a third (34%) of survey respondents said they’ve now returned to office-life five days a week – the highest level since the first Pulse survey in June 2020. The percentage of those with hybrid work arrangements dropped slightly, from 50% last November to 45% more recently.

Slack said the disconnect between senior staff and non-execs over full-time remote work has clear repercussions, with “work-life balance scores” for non-exec employees 40% lower than senior staffers, according to the survey — and stress and anxiety levels more than double than that of their C-suite level bosses.

Future Forum Pulse Survey Future Forum Pulse

The return to the office has affected employees in different ways.

Jack Gold, president and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, said it’s not surprising that senior execs get more flexibility in their work arrangements.

“Let’s be realistic,” said Gold. “What execs can do and what the average worker can do are far different. Higher level execs can pretty much set their own rules as long as they remain in positions of power.

“The average worker is subject to whatever their managers think is the appropriate work state/environment. They have much less of an ability to affect their work particulars. So, is it unfair? Perhaps, but it’s also life in most organizations.”

Gold argued that the approach taken is likely to vary between a “progressive, matrix type organization,” and that of a more structured, top-down organization. “There is no one rule for every company,” he said. “The company dynamic has much to do with it. And the HR department also often has a say in policy, so it depends on how much leverage they have in the organization.”

The survey also indicated a drop-off in various aspects of employee experience in the second quarter as more workers have begun to work in the office, including productivity, ability to focus and satisfaction with work environment.

“The question is, is this a temporary glitch as employees get used to the new work rules, or a permanent effect due to them wanting to keep what they had permanently?” said Gold.

“I think we won’t fully know until a few months of back to the office work. Still, I do suspect that many will keep the negative effects of this long-term, but perhaps not quite as pronounced.”

The results also indicated that:

  • Workers with little or no ability to set their work hours are 2.6 times as likely to look for a new job this year, compared to workers with felxible schedules.
  • This effect could hit women, minorites, and working parents (especially working mothers) the hardest; those groups report the greatest interest in flexible schedules and work locations. The percentage of women who want to work flexibly at least three days a week is 58%, compared to 48% of men. Meanwhile, the number of working mothers who want location flexibility rose to 82%, an all-time high since Future Forum began its surveys.

As for what companies can do to reduce rising levels of stress for in-office workers, Future Forum Pulse urged corporate leaders to think long and hard about why workers need to be in the office — and offer options for workers who need flexibility. 

"The most successful companies are establishing core collaboration hours when people are expected to either be in the office or online for synchronous collaboration," the survey report said. "They are setting up asynchronous collaboration methods to reduce the burden of being 'always on' and feeling pressure to constantly show up for meetings."

Companies were also urged to experiment and see what works and what doesn't: "Those who 'wait and see what others do' will be left behind."

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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