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The future of office-based working: Balancing CEO predictions with employee wellbeing

02 Nov 2023 By Huntress

According to a KPMG survey, 1300 global CEOs predict a full return to working in the office five days a week by the end of 2026, yet how does this compare to candidate priorities, and would this have a detrimental effect on staff retention and the well-being culture many companies have adopted? 

The survey also reveals an overwhelming majority 87% of global leaders believe that financial rewards and promotion opportunities could be linked in the future to office attendance, contrasting hugely with results of enhanced productivity and improved focus with hybrid and remote working. 

In this article, we will be exploring the impact of this and what challenges companies may have to overcome in the next few years before making a final decision. 

The Flexible Working Act 

We have previously covered how employers could find the right  balance of flexible working with utilising office space and how this relates to The Flexible Working Act which was passed earlier this year. The Act ensures that employee rights are protected, and employers remain compliant in reviewing and managing flexible work arrangements.  Employees are now able to request flexible working from the first date of employment. Due to this, a 360° change in terms of office attendance across all industries seems highly unlikely within such a short space of time. 

Not all organisations can adopt flexible working due to the nature of their services and the requirements of certain functions, posing the question as to whether all functions in the companies surveyed have equal opportunities for remote working.  CIPD states ‘Our view is that flexible working practices should be the norm - not the exception - for all workers’, and therefore businesses that do not offer fair opportunities to flexible working would need to discuss their approach further before coming to a decision. 

Listening to Current Employees 

As with any company decision, to maintain a culture where employees feel heard, valued, and respected it’s important to consider how it could impact employee satisfaction and retention if a decision like this is not pre-empted. For some employees and jobseekers, flexible working can be a make-or-break decision with research showing that  82% of UK workers wanted Flexible Working last year, and post covid 47% of workers said they would consider changing jobs if flexible working wasn’t an option.  

Considering Employee Wellbeing 

Many employees value flexibility, as it allows them to better balance their work and personal life, reducing commuting time and costs which all contribute towards employee wellbeing. With the ability to work around family, interests, and medical appointments Mental Health UK attributes flexible working as a way of simultaneously promoting better mental health and productivity, achieving a better work-life balance. 

According to MHFA England poor mental health accounts for more than half of all work-related illnesses with around 51% of sick leave due to stress, depression, and anxiety, so if flexible working does seem to impact your workforce, you might be able to see a trend in the number of sick days reported before the COVID-19 pandemic with those reported in the current year. 

Candidate Attraction 

Most organisations are recognising that offering flexible work arrangements can help attract and retain top talent in a highly competitive market. 

In June, 86% of business-to-business firms were offering flexible working in some form, so unless there is a huge shift in attitudes to flexible opportunities, the companies that decide to return to 100% officed-based working patterns, may face challenges attracting the right talent.   

Cost Savings 

Whilst flexible working arrangements can lead to cost savings with office space, they can also provide challenges for managers and company owners wanting the office space they have invested in to be used. This is often overcome with different office functions working in slightly varied patterns, yet it is understandable that without the entire business function being present in the office, a quarter of London companies alone has reported downsizing their offices. 

This has also had a significant impact on the environment with reduced commuting having a positive impact and is something which environmentally conscious businesses would support and benefit from. 

In summary, the prediction of a return to office work by CEOs is plausible. Nevertheless, a decision requires thorough exploration to assess the potential impact on current employees and the overall corporate culture, together with considering how this might affect future recruitment and retention.    

If you are currently unsure what other businesses in your sector are offering employees in terms of flexible working, or you would like advice on adopting a flexible working pattern, please contact us and we would be more than happy to help you.