Workers are unhappy to be back in the office, and now they're getting ready to quit

Managers stay remote while staff are sent back to the office, further fuelling resentment - and the Great Resignation.

Woman and office workers

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More workers are reluctantly returning to the office, but those who are not given any flexibility about where and when they work are the most likely to be planning to resign.

More than a third of knowledge workers (34%) are now working from the office five days a week, but employee sentiment has dropped to near-record lows, including worse scores on work-related stress, anxiety and work-life balance, according to new research. And managers are more likely to be working remotely, further fuelling resentment among those who are forced back into the office.

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Employers are likely to pay a price for this discontent: staff unhappy with levels of flexibility around where and when they work are now three times as likely to look for a new job in the coming year, according to the Future Forum Pulse survey. This study canvassed 10,000 knowledge workers in the US, Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the UK, and was commissioned by software company Slack.

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Workers are facing more of the strain of the return-to-office era than their bosses, the survey found: non-executives' work-life balance scores are now 40% worse than those of their bosses. Part of the underlying reason is what the research describes as a large and growing disconnect between knowledge workers' desired flexibility and what they're getting compared to executives.

Only about one in five knowledge workers say they want to work in the office full-time, yet 35% are making the five-day-a-week commute, compared to 19% of executives.

Non-executive employees are nearly twice as likely as executives to be making the daily commute to the office. "This discrepancy suggests that while many executives continue to work flexibly, for their employees the flexible work options that provided much-needed balance and relief have been clawed back," the research said.

Full-time office workers, who already ranked behind remote and hybrid employees on work satisfaction in the Pulse survey, have seen further steep declines.

"In the U.S., work-life balance is at an all-time low and work-related stress and anxiety is at an all-time high since the inception of our survey, an abrupt about-face from the previous quarter," the report said.

"The data indicates that the majority of workers who have been called back to their offices five days a week are returning reluctantly – 55% say they would prefer to work flexibly at least part of the time," the research noted.

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Knowledge workers who say their company does not allow flexible work are 20% more likely to look for a new job in the next year, compared to those who have the option to work outside of the office on a full-time basis.

"This effect could be most pronounced among women, people of color, and working parents (especially working mothers), who continue to report the greatest interest in flexible schedules and working locations," the research pointed out. Employees who say that their employer is not being "transparent about their future of work plans" are nearly four times as likely to say that they will "definitely" seek a new job in the next year.

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