Bastion: Forcing a return to office risks a Great Resignation

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 14 December 2021
Credit: Mantas Hesthaven via Unsplash

Hybrid working, sparked by the restrictions of the pandemic, are still causing friction in Australia between employers and their employees.

However, demanding a full return to the office in 2022 could set off a Great Resignation in Australia, according to research by independent agency Bastion.

The Future of Work (Adapting to the New Normal) report by Bastion Reputation and Bastion Insights draws on results from two surveys conducted in late 2021: a nationally representative sample of 1200 Australians including 600 employees and 500 employers from all states and territories and a wide range of industries.

Two in five employees surveyed want more than anything to have control over where and when they work.

Flexibility is more important for some than incentives such as higher pay.

But employers are still concerned about performance, culture and teamwork. 

“After nearly two years of working in and out of lockdowns, employees feel liberated and empowered by the flexibility they’ve experienced, and many would now rather choose to leave their job than lose their ability to work from home when they want to," says Bastion Reputation CEO Clare Gleghorn.

“Flexible working is being embraced particularly by female and older workers. While this is a positive trend for embracing flexibility, employers will need to be mindful that this doesn't negatively impact on broader workplace culture and inclusion."

Embracing hybrid ways of working is now an essential part of ensuring a successful business.

“While employers are keen for their operations to get back to normal in 2022, they need to avoid a blunt approach and instead use this as an opportunity to engage with their employees in a positive discussion about the future of their workplace,” Gleghorn says.

“It will be important to think before enforcing mandates about returning to the office. Anchor days are really important for creating a sense of connection but workplaces in 2022 shouldn’t just be about the office or home. They should be about really considering what is best for teams, individuals, and businesses to get the best out of each other, and that starts with a conversation.

“Employers should find ways to involve employees in the conversation about what work looks like for individuals, teams and the broader business. Offering genuine and ongoing flexibility may take a leap of faith for some employers but it will go a long way towards helping attract and retain top talent and getting the best performance outcomes for business.”

The Bastion survey shows thatAustralian employers and employees have mostly made the transition to living and working in an ongoing state of uncertainty.

This is a change from last year’s survey, when the disruptive impacts of a public health crisis and the shift to new ways of working were challenging and stressful for employers and employees.

Of employers surveyed in November 2021 about hybrid working arrangements:

  • 21% believe it negatively impacts workplace culture (compared to 35% last year)
  • 26% believe it negatively impacts teamwork and collaboration (compared to 37% last year)
  • 19% see it negatively impacting performance management (compared to 23% last year)

For employees, the honeymoon glow has worn off but there is still a broad sense of satisfaction with more flexible working arrangements.

Dianne Gardiner, CEO of Bastion Insights: “While there is plenty of optimism that the new year may offer more stability than we’ve experienced for the past two years, it will never be a case of life returning to the way it was before the pandemic.

“In 2022 leaders will need to coach their managers, many of whom are still not sure how to manage confidently in remote or hybrid settings.

"And while much will continue to change about the way we work, some basic principles of great leadership won’t - leaders should keep talking to their teams, listen genuinely, offer flexibility where they can and communicate clearly and regularly.”

Many employers are still not sure or confident about how to manage teams in a hybrid model, with more than half saying they have not even thought about how to do it.

“We know that poor performance management is a problem long-term. It can be a real culture-killer to see under-performing colleagues ‘get away with it’. And even high performers will disengage over time, if they are not receiving regular feedback and guidance from their manager,” Gleghorn says.

“This tension between empowerment, productivity and oversight still needs to be resolved if hybrid models are to be effective. There is much work to be done to shift our mindsets and adapt our ways of managing teams, to allow autonomy and trusted working relationships to thrive".

There are still lingering concerns about factors such as connection to colleagues, with about 1 in 4 employers and about 1 in 5 employees believing hybrid working will have a negative impact on connection.

This suggests employers and employees need to find the right approaches to keeping the whole team engaged, valued and connected as businesses move into 2022 and beyond.

One in five (21%) of female employees surveyed and 60% of older employees surveyed are unlikely to want to return to the office – a trend that potentially points to future offices which skew towards male workers and younger workers.

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