Workers are refusing to return to the office, and they are ready to face the consequences

Remote working is here to stay, and employees would rather find a new job than go back to their desks, a survey finds.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor
Man working surrounded by monitors in the dark
Image: Getty

One in four US workers say they have refused to comply with their employer's instruction to return to the office – and are willing to accept termination as a result.

A survey of 1,000 remote workers by insurance tech company Reli Exchange found that 75% of employers had instructed staff to return to on-site work at least part of the time. Of these, 26% said they were choosing not to comply with their bosses' in-office mandates, even if it meant getting fired.

Older Millennials and younger Gen Xers (35 to 44) were the least likely to comply with return-to-office orders, the survey found, suggesting that employees have become accustomed to the benefits of greater flexibility offered by remote- and hybrid-working arrangements.

Health concerns and work-life balance were the most-cited advantages of remote working, each referred to by 50% of respondents. When asked what they would do if they were fired for not returning to the office, 40% said they would start their own business, while 40% would simply find a new job. This compares to just 11% who would ask for their job back.

Also: When it comes to tackling the skills shortage, employers are obsessing over the wrong thing

Grant Barra, SVP of operations at Reli Exchange parent company Reliance Global, said employers and employees would "need to make difficult decisions" if they continued to square off over return-to-office mandates, but said the onus was on businesses to justify their decisions.

"Employers should explore not only why they want people in the office, but whether bringing people into the office is achieving those goals. If the main reason to bring people back is to collaborate with colleagues, for example, they need to set terms that ensure that happens," said Barra.

Hybrid working remains the popular choice amongst professionals: 28% said they would comply with a return to the office demand if it involved having to do so four times per week or fewer. This compares to 21% who said they wanted an agreed number of on-site days per year, and 20% who would return to the office if it meant more in-office perks.

Also: Return to office realities: 4 things employees say they're struggling with

Surprisingly, only 8% would return in exchange for a promotion or a raise. The findings reiterate what analyses of workplace sentiment have been saying for months – the genie is out of the bottle, and employees will not give up remote working without a fight.

This battle could get messy as companies prepare for an economic downturn in the coming months. A number of companies have signalled their intention to up the number of mandated in-office days as financial pressures bite, with hiring freezes and lay-offs also foreshadowing a potential withdrawal of flexible-working freedoms.

But employees may still hold the upper hand for now, not least because companies are still struggling to fill key vacancies in tech and digital roles.

According to a recent UK survey by AND Digital, 81% of leaders report a digital skills gap that is harming business. The report estimates that some $272 billion is at risk of being lost annually if companies can't fill this hole.

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