RTO-Return to Office Study Found a Quarter of Execs Hoped for Turnover

BambooHR has published a new study on the state of Return To Office (RTO) sentiment, revealing that nearly one-third (32%) of managers acknowledge that the primary aim of RTO policies was to monitor employees. Additionally, one-quarter (25%) of VP and C-suite executives and 18% of HR professionals admit they anticipated some voluntary turnover with RTO implementation. Currently, a significant majority of both remote (88%) and in-office (79%) employees feel the pressure to demonstrate that they are online and working.

“The conversation around work modes is one of the most important things to address and get clear on as a business. It often gets reduced to just RTO, but it’s actually a much bigger conversation around how teams best work together and is a leader-led initiative,” said Anita Grantham, Head of HR at BambooHR. “RTO is one of many different work modes, and if a change in work modes is needed, it’s important to handle the transition thoughtfully. Any hasty change to an employee’s work mode can leave your company culture in a precarious situation where employees are not unified, management teams are seen as overlords, and employee satisfaction will continue to nose dive.”

Performative Cultures and The Green Status Effect
Hybrid work and RTO mandates have unexpected consequences that have office culture shifting to performative tactics where just under half (42%) of all employees feel they’re showing up solely for the purpose of being seen by their bosses and managers. Employees are adopting various strategies to put on a show, whether working remotely or on-site. Here’s how they ensure their efforts are visible:

  • In-office
    • 37% walk around the office so coworkers see them.
    • 35% plan meetings with other coworkers who are also in the office.
    • 33% show up earlier or leave later than their manager.
  • Remote
    • 39% participate in social conversations in work messaging apps.
    • 31% schedule-send emails.
    • 64% of remote workers admit to keeping work messaging apps perpetually open, displaying a green “active” status to imply they’re online and actively engaged in work, even when they may not be actively working.
      • While all workers are taking steps to demonstrate productivity, it’s among remote employees that the “Green Status Effect” has emerged.

Management’s Not-So-Noble Efforts
Many leaders are using RTO as a tactic to increase productivity in employees or even prod employees to quit, leaving HR teams (22%) without clear metrics to measure a successful RTO. It’s clear these efforts are not producing the desired results.

  • Efforts:
    • Nearly two in five (37%) managers, directors, and executives believe their organization enacted layoffs in the last year because fewer employees quit than they expected during their RTO.
    • Nearly a third (32%) of managers admit the desire to track employee work was a main goal for their company’s RTO.
    • Nearly half of managers say that the main goal of their company’s RTO was improving company culture (46%).
  • Results:
    • Workers (both in-office and remote) only work for around three-quarters (76%) of a 9-to-5 shift; the other quarter is spent socializing, procrastinating, or doing non-work-related tasks. Put simply, all workers typically spend 2 hours out of every 8-hour shift not working.
    • When it comes to who’s more productive overall, in-office workers spend around one hour more socializing than their remote counterparts, while remote workers spend that time on work-related tasks and responsibilities.
    • Since having an RTO mandate, more than a fourth (26%) say a greater divide has developed between remote and non-remote workers.

“The distrusting and performative cultures some companies are cultivating are harmful to bottom-line growth and it’s becoming more clear that leaders should take each employee’s experience into account,” Grantham said. “It’s okay to have broad RTO policies but when 61% of parents and caretakers who prefer remote work say it’s because it allows them to fulfill their family responsibilities (vs. 38% non-caretakers) and 63% of workers with disabilities prefer remote work (vs. 51% of non-disabled workers), individual exceptions make sense. We’re striving for a balance between the needs of the organization and the needs of the humans we work with.”

To read the full State of Return To Office (RTO) report, visit the website here.

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BambooHR conducted this research using an online survey prepared by Method Research and distributed by RepData among n=1,504 adults (age 18+) in the United States who are full-time salaried employees that currently work in a desk job position, included a subgroup of n=504 HR professionals who have a manager title or above. The sample was equally split between gender, with a spread of age groups, race groups, and geographies represented. Data was collected from March 9 to March 22, 2024.


About Author

Taylor Graham, marketing grad with an inner nature to be a perpetual researchist, currently all things IT. Personally and professionally, Taylor is one to know with her tenacity and encouraging spirit. When not working you can find her spending time with friends and family.