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1 in 3 senior execs say a return-to-office mandate is pushing them to quit

Tim Paradis   

1 in 3 senior execs say a return-to-office mandate is pushing them to quit
  • An RTO mandate influenced 36% of senior-level job seekers in their decision to seek a new role.
  • A survey found some workers pulled out of a hiring process for jobs that required office time.

Some work-from-home holdouts aren't giving up.

In a poll, 36% of people seeking senior-level jobs said a return-to-office mandate factored into their decision to look for a new role — even if they had good reason to go back to the office.

One in three also said they'd walked away from a hiring process in the past year because the would-be employer required people to be in the office, according to a recently released survey by research firm Gartner.

The survey, conducted in January among nearly 3,000 job seekers, echoed Gartner research from late 2023 that found one in three execs faced with an RTO mandate planned to ditch their employer because of it. That earlier survey also found that 19% of non-exec workers would likewise quit if forced to pick up their commute again.

The results from both snapshots underscore that while many workers — and even CEOs — appear to have tapped out on the RTO fights, there is still a segment of people unwilling to give up video meetings and at-home lunches.

But now, as the market for white-collar jobs appears to be slowing, it remains unclear how long workers can ghost their cubicles.

'They still would leave'

Caroline Ogawa, a director in the HR practice at Gartner, told Business Insider that the findings showed how even when execs understood why the big boss would want them back in the office, that rationale wasn't necessarily enough.

"They overwhelmingly felt like the organization provided a convincing reason" to return to the office, she said. "But they still would leave if they were asked" to come back.

Ogawa said the findings were also notable because high-up executives are often the people tasked with implementing RTO mandates. However, when it comes to what they want, some still desire autonomy about where they work.

"Often, they're the ones kind of holding the bag for those decisions," she said. But when it comes to their own actions in the job market, "they're behaving like you would expect all candidates to behave."

For many workers, that behavior is wanting to retain the choice they had just a couple of years ago during the Great Resignation and believing they still have the upper hand over employers.

Ogawa previously told BI that while it appears demand for white-collar workers is slipping, many desk workers want to retain agency and call the shots about where and when they do their jobs.

Hybrid is here to stay

Some CEOs appear to be hearing workers. In a recent survey by KMPG US, just 34% of US CEOs of large companies said they expect their people will be back in the office five days a week in the next three years. That's a big drop from a prior survey in 2023, when 62% of CEOs held that expectation.

"Hybrid is likely here to stay," Paul Knopp, chair and CEO at KPMG US, told BI in April.

Not all workers who want to log on from home are doing so. Erik Bernard, a 26-year-old who works in IT in Australia, chose a higher-paying government job over a less lucrative role where he could work from home most days. Yet, he recently told BI that he's not sure he made the right decision.

On the day he gets to work from home — and avoid the hourlong drive to the office — he says he can get more sleep and time at the gym.

"It's about quality of life," he said.

What's at stake with RTO

Gartner's Ogawa said now that we've had a few years of hybrid setups and other work arrangements, it's becoming clearer for companies and workers what the stakes are around RTO pushes.

She said companies will have to ask whether perceived benefits from priorities such as collaboration or innovation will outweigh the risks of potentially losing some workers who are firm about not making the trek to their desks.

For some employers, saying goodbye to the at-home crowd might be acceptable, Ogawa said.

"They might not be looking to retain folks who wouldn't want to come back to the office," she said.

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