Over the last three years, most of the world has watched CEOs at massive enterprises toggle between supporting remote work and demanding employees return to the office. We’ve also seen job satisfaction suffer due to these return-to-office mandates.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, it’s now a legal right for employees to request flexible working circumstances from their employers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, job satisfaction is at a four-decade high. A lot of that can be attributed primarily to improved work/life balance and flexible working conditions.

A graph showing the share of people who are satisfied in their jobs
Source: Conference Board

Before we get into how bad workplace decision-making aggravates employees, let’s focus on what it means to be happy at work in 2023 and the well-researched decisions that lead to high job satisfaction.

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Workplace happiness (2023)

Flexibility and choice

Trust and honesty

Tools and Benefits

  • Time tracking. Use a robust and user-friendly automatic time tracking tool rather than manually filling out a timesheet in an Excel spreadsheet each pay period.
  • Benefits. Additional benefits like Paid time off (PTO), insurance, and EAPs help reduce burnout.
  • Development. Internal and external coaching and development opportunities help retention and ultimately save money.

You can make workdays easier and employees happier by offering flexible workplaces with access to smart technology. Rather than creating an environment where employees are forced to commute to the office, especially when the office environment is not “commute worthy.”

Next, let’s look at how we make decisions so we can learn how to make better ones.

Understanding decision making

We use two systems to process information and make decisions. Thinking and feeling.

  1. Thinking = intentional, cool, rational, and logical
    This type of decision-making is more analytical; you can catch yourself making a mistake on autopilot. This system is useful for learning and analyzing new things.
  2. Feeling = autopilot, automatic, and quick thinking
    Your tribal flight or fight response. With this type of thinking, you must be careful that your overconfidence doesn’t lead you astray.

Our brain is lazy and takes shortcuts or heuristics (mental blockers). These are cognitive biases or mental patterns that cause us to make mistakes. 

Status quo bias is a cognitive bias connected to “return to office”

The status quo bias perfectly summarizes the “return to office” movement. These leaders want what they had before. Simply put, they’re stuck in the past. Stuck in what the workplace used to be like and what they want to return to. Doing what they are comfortable with.

Picture this. As a leader, you may know how to lead and succeed in the office — but not remotely. You want to return to a space you know and understand: the office. You’ll likely decide to mandate a “return to office” policy for your business.

You must think emotionally to shift from autopilot and break down your biases. Rather than creating negative experiences, the goal is for everyone on your team to feel comfortable and confident.

Five examples of CEOs ordering employees to return to the office 

Now, let’s briefly remind ourselves of some CEOs that demanded a return to office only to reverse their decision due to disgruntled employees.

  1. Twitter Elon Musk – started as a remote work skeptic. Then months later embraced remote work. In an interview with CNBC on 16th May 2023, Musk states that working from home is morally wrong when service team members still need to come into the office.
  2. Amazon Andy Jassy, and Jeff Bezos. Amazon wanted everyone face-to-face in 2021. In 2022, they allowed two work-from-home days. Now, in 2023, employees must return to the office. Team members are protesting this decision by setting their Slack status to “Remote Advocacy.”
  3. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg –  Back in May of 2021, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg predicted that 50% of its staff would work remotely within 5-10 years. In 2023, Mark says to find more opportunities to work with your colleagues in person.
  4. Apple CEO Tim Cook – In June 2021, Cook requested that team members return to the office three days a week (Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday) with the choice to work remotely on Wednesdays and Fridays. Employees expressed unhappiness asking for the policy to be changed, and plans to return to the office were delayed. Complaints continued, and employees began another petition to fight for more flexibility.
  5. Disney CEO Bob Iger – Disney offices reopened three days a week in July 2021. Employees could work remotely for two other days. Iger declared a return to office mandate in January 2023, which employees protested with a petition.

The list goes on, but you get the idea, don’t you? It’s easy to see how this would frustrate employees.

Bad workplace decisions lead to employee pushback 

Businesses that choose to mandate a “return to office” see many employees leaving their job or publicly protesting. These employees started to hate their jobs and the decisions made by their leadership.

On the flip side, this research study shows that team members who work from home 100% of the time were 20% happier on average than those who don’t have the choice to work remotely.

Team members who work from home 100% of the time were 20% happier on average than those who don't have the choice to work remotely.

According to a November Gallup survey, 46% of hybrid team members feel engaged when choosing where and when to work.

Employees want choice, and if you want them back in the office, they need a reason to return to the office. A good reason — not swanky offices and free food. More than anything, employees want a choice rather than being ordered to do something.

Leaders have the data to make good decisions, so don’t just look for what supports your thinking. Look for the science that challenges it. Don’t allow your cognitive bias to take over and create mental blockers. Instead, focus on creating a positive employee experience.

People are not more collaborative and engaged in the office. Employee engagement is about something other than returning to the office. You don’t need to bump into each other in the corridors to be creative.

Remote work boosts productivity and revenue while enhancing your talent pool, productivity, and trust

Break down those mental blockers to make better workplace decisions for your business and your team 

Be progressive and focus on the science — not your gut feeling. Measure productivity carefully, transition to new ways of working, and adopt an infinite mindset.

Employees today want the choice to work remotely. Feelings aside, it’s objectively a bad decision if it leads to bad outcomes. The difficult part is changing your mind. Always ask yourself who has a different perspective than me. Look for reasons why you might be wrong.

Recent research indicates that hybrid work will prevail over the return to the office. For many, the challenge is figuring out how to maximize a hybrid work model to maximize productivity and retain happy employees.

Category: Remote