Ask the Evil HR Lady: How do I get reluctant workers back to office?

Prior to the pandemic, everyone worked in the office. Of course, just about everyone worked from home. Six months ago, the company owner asked everyone to return to the office. Only about half of the people did.

What do I do about the other half? We have 120 employees in two states, and I’m the HR manager. Can I require them to return to the office? Pay people who work from home less money? The owner is angry that they are defying his order to return to the office.

To read my answer, click here: Ask the Evil HR Lady: How do I get reluctant workers back to office?

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9 thoughts on “Ask the Evil HR Lady: How do I get reluctant workers back to office?

  1. As opposed to pay cuts for those who stay at home, how about pay raises — or commuting expense reimbursements — for those who come to work? Also, at my Agency we have a commuter benefit program that allows us to fund, tax-free, some commuting expenses, such as public transit and ride-sharing. I, wholeheartedly, agree that, if you want to make returning to work acceptable to employees, you need to make it as desirable as practicable.

  2. 1. Fix the HVAC.
    2. Fix the bathrooms.
    3. We’re not having in-person meetings because every in-person meeting in the past 2 years has resulted in a multiple-person-Covid-positive-situation. I’m commuting in hellacious construction (so the time has doubled. Its not long term…its just six months, but still. Its digging into my time seriously) with record gas prices to sit in my office and do the same thing I do at home.
    3a. I could chose to meet in small groups at the office and put myself at risk for Covid and upending my home life for upwards of a month even if nobody is symptomatic when all societal supports have been removed. (My kids’ teachers don’t “have to” post work electronically for kids with Covid time off…)
    3b. I have coworkers who proudly flaunt any common sense hygiene/infection control rules AND loudly proclaim that they’re doing community immunity a favor by doing everything they’re not supposed to be doing. (Example: coming to work with a positive PCR test even though that’s not permitted where I work) There are limited consequences to this behavior.
    4. Fix the lighting.
    5. Get a backup generator so that we don’t lose power every single time it rains.
    6. How about a raise as its been a couple of record-profit years without one.
    7. I’d even settle for hybrid. But we’re stuck with butt-in-seats. That’s not helping us hire talent.

    Seriously, I’ve been back in the office for two years for a job that can be done from anywhere 95% of the time. All being back in the office did was give me Covid (see all of the above – it was the OG version pre-vaccines); medical team is not convinced that the sudden onset asthma and minor heart issues that appeared after recovery were NOT related.

    1. This is fantastic. Some of these things were issues before COVID…lighting, HVAC, etc.
      But those things are bare minimum requirements now.
      I go into the office very little now because I got a new job that is very remote and requires a plane ride to go in. But like you mentioned, it becomes a super-spreader event every time I am there. The new open office concept is cute, but when you are shoulder to shoulder in open-space, it can be dangerous.

      I also see the flip side of this coin. My last job could also be done 100% remote very well. Being at a much larger company that was great at finding ways to cut costs at the detriment of the company, loved to outsource. And outsource overseas. At my last company I could totally see them outsourcing that role overseas to save money and laying off the whole US team; especially if they continued to balk about coming in with no “good” reason. Depending on the industry/job I feel like it is a dangerous double-edge sword to fight for WFH.

  3. Personally I have no sympathy for office workers who don’t want to return to in-office position that they had prior COVID-19 situation, because they had the option to continue getting full pay while working at home remotely. The reason I say this is that after such a prolonged period, they should have expected that they would have to make changes to adjust to the return to in-office work.
    Yes, there should have been discussions with both sides on expectations during the time period away from the office about whether they BOTH agree that this type of work situation works best for the continuation of the business—no personal preference should be given priority in the important decisions regarding the functioning of the business. If the remote work made no difference in the business continuity, but the CEO prefers in-office workers and will adapt the office setup to accommodate the new Covid-19 OSHA standards, then the HR has to inform the employees to make the decision to return or lose the job by themselves. Perhaps some people feel that returning to the in-person, in-office work conditions should not be a forced decision but totally forgot that they were given a temporary option to still get a full paycheck while the public health situation was being evaluated. They had a temporary option not available in other types of jobs. If they feel that remote work is more suitable to their lifestyle then so be it but don’t blame the company or the boss if that option is now phasing out except for specific circumstances. and that option is available if the employee does the correct paperwork to prove their specific need. Part of the right to work situation is the realization by employees that their job is not a guaranteed position if they don’t want to follow the job requirements which includes where the place the job is performed.
    With technology taking over more and more in-person positions, and increased demands for better work/ life settings, plus increased labor costs, both employers and employees need to make serous decisions on what they will compromise to continue working. By law the employer has the right to set conditions for how the job is done provided they offer an OSHA safe environment which may not satisfy everyone. Those are dissatisfied have the option to ask for specific adaptations provided they also have documentation that proves their specific need. ( disability). Otherwise, it’s time to move on to a position that better fits your lifestyle.

    1. It is important to remember that we are in a labor shortage here. Employers are lucky to have employees. In any event, I think that all would agree that should employees be forced to return to the office, we shouldn’t expect them to give notice if they move on, or hold it against them reference-wise if they don’t

  4. Fix the culture. If that’s what people are supposed to come back for, make it real. My company had culture posters that described a modern, ethical, exciting tech industry enterprise. But it had a butt-in-seat culture reinforced by weekly reports of the hours that each person spent between entering the building and leaving it. Management was helter skelter, with some people badly overloaded and others desperately trying to hang onto some responsibility that would not be taken away and given to the swamped go-to guys. People with little to do had to put in hours of in-office overtime because that was what the company rewarded. Sexism, racism, and ageism weren’t addressed unless wildly egregious and sometimes not then. Work at home was forbidden (except briefly at the start of covid) even for people who worked alone in their cubes/offices all day, because “culture.” That’s not culture. It’s just poor management. It’s the first thing to address anywhere “bringing them into the office” is an issue: take a really hard look at the culture, not at the slick posters but at the day to day reality, and fix it.

  5. Here is why I do not want to return to the office: open office environment.

    I cannot see or hear properly in the office and only was productive about half the time I was there. I compensated for this pre-Covid by spending MANY hours making up the time on nights and weekends, essentially for free because I am salaried.

    Now that I’ve had the experience of working from home and can compare how much more work I can get done and also live a more healthy lifestyle because I can SEE AND HEAR while I am working I do not want to give that up.

    They can invest in a real office environment or fire me ‍♀️

  6. Employers should be able to voice explicit logical reason(s) employees need to work from their office.

    Employers were oh so happy to have employees continue in their roles when most employees were required to not be in the office.

    Now that it’s not required to be home, employers want to pretend employees weren’t – what?: productive?, happy?, saving money on gas, clothes, eating out? – in other words, a raise that didn’t cost the employer and improved employees” health.

    Let’s be real – in many instances, work from home has worthwhile benefits for employees. Employees did it well for two years and employers prospered. Employees who want to work at an employer’s office should be able to do that and employees who want to work from home should be able to do that as long as the role their in supports that type of work.

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