“Pretend to work somewhere else”: Workplaces forcing staff back in are seeing more quit, survey says

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SpaceX staff are reportedly embarrassed by CEO Elon Musk's personal brand.

Almost half of Australian workers are back in the office full time, but 71% of these workers wished they weren’t — that’s the finding of a new survey from RMIT, which found a growing chasm between leadership and employees in the office.

One in four managers surveyed said they believed workers were more productive when working from the office — while only 12% of workers agreed.

Indeed many of these workers say they were “unhappy” back in the workplace, the report found, while more than half said they wanted at least two days from home a week.

RMIT Online interim-CEO Claire Hopkins said it was “only natural” that companies are still figuring it all out “after a period of profound disruption”.

“Whilst it may feel that our lives are returning to ‘normal’, this seismic shift in ways of working means we all have to create a new normal,” she said.

And yet integrating a hybrid model into that ‘new normal’ could make all the difference when it comes to attracting the best talent — a whopping 93% of those surveyed called flexibility “essential” when accepting a new job or staying in a role.

The report continued that about one in three managers have lost (or will lose) a team member over their flexibility policies, while businesses with rigid working models made up 75% of these losses.

“Employees will vote with their feet if they’re not given the opportunity to co-design this with their employer,” Hopkins warned.

“The challenge for leaders is understanding what activities deliver better quality when done in person versus those that are best done remotely or asynchronously.”

Elon Musk says it’s the office… or you’re out

It comes as Elon Musk told his employees to get back into the office or “pretend to work somewhere else”.

The Tesla billionaire sent a staff memo that read “anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers.”

Musk is continuing his bid to buy Twitter, whose San Francisco office, he suggested, could be turned into a “homeless shelter since no one shows up anyway”, though Twitter chief executive, Parag Agrawal, has assured staff that they could still work from home if they’d like.

“Wherever you feel most productive and creative is where you will work and that includes working from home full-time forever,” Agrawal said in a tweet.

But is there a case to be made for workers — specifically women — getting back into the office?

Former prime minister Julia Gillard says women who work from home risk being “invisible behind the screen”.

“There’s a risk that if nothing else changes in five years’ time, what we’ll see is a pattern where women have chosen, particularly in the family formation stage, disproportionately to work from home,” Gillard said.

“And men, who have been much more regular attenders at the office … that very visibility, if nothing else changes, will show in who’s been considered for promotion, sponsorship, mentorship. The women will be kind of invisible behind the screen.”

Gillard — Australia’s first female PM — made the comments at an event held by her Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, where she qualified that flexibility was “fantastic” for workers generally.

RMIT’s report also found that workers were seeking more transparency around the reasons for returning full-time, with almost half saying they felt it was important management levelled with them.

Indeed a third told the survey they personally thought management didn’t even know why the office was essential, while 57% said it was a powerplay: that management prefers the office because it is easier to control what employers are doing.

Moving forward, Hopkins said leaders should “stop and think about the role of the office”.

“Before the pandemic, it was assumed offices increased collaboration, helped sustain the company’s culture and were a place where junior staff learned from experienced colleagues just by observing them,” she said.

“The only thing we can be certain about is that this will continue to evolve and the companies that take a test-and-learn approach with their team will win in terms of attracting and retaining great people.”

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