Agencies are losing staff to increasing mandatory in-office days

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 26 June 2023
Source: Xavi Cabrera via Unsplash

Staff are switching employers when agencies, arguing for improved productivity, mandate more days in the office.

Ryan Kelly, founder and CEO at recruitment agency Creative Natives says working from home gets thrown into the debate when businesses find economic conditions dragging on revenue.

“There's a narrative that going back into the office is going to increase productivity [and profits] but for me, that's a short sighted view,” Kelly told AdNews.

This narrative is birthed by a disconnect from senior business owners who are distanced from the day-to-day life of their employees and their needs.

Kelly last month published a Creative Natives poll to his LinkedIn that asked Would you consider a new role that required five days in office? - 85% of 2,082 people voted no.

“That disconnect breeds unhappiness and we're seeing firsthand those businesses who are making people go back to the office five days a week are going to lose staff. That's a fact, that's not even a debate,” Kelly said.

Business owners, motivated to utilise the properties they have leased, want staff in the office. However, the majority of staff - especially working parents - have successfully demonstrated they can do their work from home and create a better lifestyle for themselves. 

“There is going to be times where the economy dips, but making people go back to the office five days a week is a way of showing distrust to your staff," said Kelly.

“But I don't think it's necessarily the environment that makes people work hard, it's the type of people that you have in your organisation.”

The solution? Balance.

Everyone's view on work from home is based on their current needs and wants; people want what serves them best. 

“There's a middle ground that needs to be met because we've gone too far down the path of finding that balance in life that people just aren't willing to give that up,” Kelly said.

“Reducing someone's flexibility is ultimately the same as reducing someone's salary - I just don't think people are gonna take it.”

Independent full service agency Equality Media + Marketing, winner of AdNews’ employer of the year (headcount under 75) and AFR's best place to work, is an example of finding balance between management and staff.

With its introduction of a four-day week initiative called Equality Time, the agency saw a 68% reduction in time spent in meetings and an increase of 11% in active tasks.

For Marilla Akkermans, managing director at Equality Media, the key to any workplace initiative is talking to the team.

“When we were deciding how many days to come into the office, the team were really open to working through the best approach for us and it’s something we’re coming back to every few months,” Akkermans told AdNews.

“The reality is there needs to be a combination of both home and office days – collaboration is so important as is culture, but also getting into deep work and getting your job done efficiently is just as important.

“I think everyone needs to ask why they feel the need for the increased days and if the reasons are valid - the team will come along no qualms.”

Akkermans said her agency is focusing on improving the agency’s office space to entice more people in.

“Gone are the days of finding a space with dodgy overhead lighting and drab desks. End of trip facilities and a free coffee also won’t cut it anymore,” Akkermans said.

“I think people can see through disingenuous care of culture these days, so it’s less about the perks and more about actually showing you care and appreciate your team. 

“Thoughtful spaces with lots of natural light, with sustainability credentials that are close to amenity and central to where your team travel from is now the base expectation. 

“If you want some initiatives, talk to your team.”

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