Employers implementing RTO need to communicate benefits to employees

Long commutes, work-life balance, distractions, and costs are the key reasons workers don’t want to spend more days in the office

Employers implementing RTO need to communicate benefits to employees
Martin Fox, managing director, Robert Walters Canada

Almost half (46 percent) of Canadian professionals say they would look for new employment if they were asked to increase their in-office workdays. This data contrasts with the preferences of employers, with one in five expressing a desire for more in-office presence, says research from recruitment consultancy Robert Walters. 

Despite previous data that shows 55 percent of Canadian employers anticipate a complete return to the office by 2026, Robert Walters’ data shows hybrid work opportunities continue to rank among the top three benefits desired by professionals across all fields.  

“The pandemic not only opened the door to hybrid-working but made it a mainstay in many companies,” says Martin Fox, managing director of Robert Walters Canada. “It also proved that there just isn’t a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to ways of working and keeping productivity levels up across a workforce. 

Workers won’t readily give up flexible working routines 

“Leaders attempting to implement a full return-to-office (RTO) are quickly going to run into trouble – as it’s clear that many professionals won’t readily give up the flexible working routines that they’ve spent the last three to four years getting comfortable with.” 

Even though one in five employers want to see their employees in the office more, today 79 percent say they would not issue a full return-to-office yet, even if it wouldn’t impact retention. 

“There is a balance to strike with flexible working. If more days in office are what companies want – the onus is on senior leadership teams to make the office the heart of their work community and inform professionals of what can be gained by returning,” says Fox.  

Employees have many reasons why they don’t want to spend more days in the office. These include long commutes (47 percent), disruption to work-life balance (32 percent), distractions at work (14 percent), and associated costs (seven percent). Additionally, research from IWG reveals a trend where women, particularly from a range of diverse backgrounds, are actively shaping their careers around the flexibility that hybrid working offers. This shift is not only enhancing work-life balance but also fostering a wealth of new professional opportunities, it says.  

Fox says, “The pandemic brought to light some of the benefits of working from home. As the world slowed down, we discovered the untapped potential of that commute time, realizing it could be transformed into more productive work, dedicated hours for personal hobbies, quality family time, or simply a chance to rest.” 

When asked about changes they expect will impact work over 2024, 39 percent of professionals say ‘changes to hybrid-working’ will have the biggest impact on workplaces this year – before advancements in generative AI (31 percent), effective leadership (21percent), and changes to rewards and benefits schemes (nine percent). 

Employers must offer a compromise 

The Robert Walters research suggests that hybrid-working isn’t something employers can just take away without offering some incentive or compromise. “Our research shows that gone are the days where employers compete for talent on salary alone,” says Fox. “Having a clearly defined hybrid working model will be a key benefit to leverage for candidate attraction and retention this year, particularly where hiring budgets remain stringent.” 

For employers that do want to encourage more in-office work, they will have to communicate its benefits and make working at the office appealing to its employees and potential employees.  

Employees that come into the office say they do so because of improved collaboration with peers (20 percent). However, 52 percent say they come in only because their employer asked them to do so. Ten percent say it helps with their weekly routine. However, these benefits may not outweigh the drawbacks for some, who may prefer to have more flexibility, autonomy, and comfort in their work environment

“A holistic approach to employee strategies, incorporating more than just monetary benefits, is vital in securing and nurturing a strong workforce,” says Fox. “With 81 percent of professionals saying they may look at job alternatives in the new year, it’s vital for employers to ensure they’re doing what they can to maintain an attractive and competitive employee offering.”