Reducing staff angst over return to the office

Organisations have been considering how to return their employees to the office without alienating them or causing undue anxiety. Flexibility is a key retention strategy in the time of “the Great Resignation” but how do you balance this with “business as usual” back in the office? 

Time to read: 4 mins

Four key barriers have been identified in employees returning to the office after a significant period of working from home over the past two years. Some are more surprising than you would think: 

Caring arrangements

Many parents understood the frustrations of home-schooling while trying to work, but now that schools are back in session, a lot are enjoying the ability to do school pick up and/or drop off instead of sending their children or dependents to a babysitter for before and/or after school care. 


Commuting requires time and money. In some countries like Germany, employees are starting to ask employers to cover their commuting costs when they are required to come into the business premises. Many employees also enjoy the time freed up by not commuting. This gives them time to exercise, work on hobbies, spend time with dependents, and improve their work/life balance. 

Productivity, focus and quiet

Recent productivity surveys have shown that productivity is mixed when working solely from home. While having “quiet/focused time” boosts productivity for many people, it decreases the innovation provided by a collaborative office environment. A combination of working from home and in the office (hybrid model) helps ensure that workers can be both innovative and productive. Interestingly, there is a gender difference on where you focus most effectively. In a recent survey by Unispace, 46% of males preferred the office, compared to just 34% of females. 

Mental health

Once the initial fears of Covid-19 were over, focus turned to the mental health implications of being at home and physically isolated from others – and with good cause. The U.S. Census Bureau found an 11% increase in anxiety and depression symptoms from 2019 to 2020. The social aspect of the office environment is important, not only for culture but also for individuals’ mental health.

How to retain your top talent

A briefing by Strategic Pay last month showed two key ways to retain employees. One is a short-term approach of increasing salaries to meet the market and the other is the more strategic focus of building your Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Put simply, EVP is the sum of the tangible and intangible benefits of working for your business. 

To ensure that you are not part of the “Great Resignation” consider how you can “upgrade” your organisation and its EVP to retain your top talent. One area to focus on is incentives / benefits to staff returning to the office, even on a part-time or hybrid basis. Organisations could consider: 

  • How flexible can you be? Think about how your employees can operate in terms of work hours and physical location. While working from home is not practicable in many roles, are there other ways you can be flexible? Can you have teams decide collectively when they start and finish? Going back to the office five days a week is no longer the “norm” for some roles. As an example, we recently recruited for an external role where the employer wanted the successful candidate to work four or five days a week in the office. Three of their preferred candidates turned down the role because they wanted to work at least two days a week from home.
  • The physical office environment. Having an inviting space with a mixture of communal and private/ quiet areas is key.
  • Offering more than just coffee, tea and biscuits. Some organisations in Europe are starting to offer free breakfasts or lunches to entice employees into the office.
  • Having a strong health and wellbeing programme. Things like employee assistance programmes and free or discounted gym memberships are important to show you care about work/life balance. Holding regular social events are also an important part of this.
  • Travel allowances. Paying for employees to come to work, in the form of an allowance, public transport subscription or carpark, is also gaining ground in places like Germany.
  • Promotions. In a survey published by Unispace in January 2022, 81% of respondents believed that working remotely would affect their career prospects, including promotions, bonuses and pay increases. This is something to consider when designing a flexible work policy.
  • Ensuring employees have the right tools to effectively work from home. This includes making sure their workstation is ergonomically correct. This demonstrates you are committed to a long-term working-from-home arrangement. 

These are just a few ways you can make your business or organisation an attractive place to work but for help with that or other HR matters, please contact, the wider Auckland HR team on, or your local Baker Tilly Staples Rodway HR advisor.

DISCLAIMER No liability is assumed by Baker Tilly Staples Rodway for any losses suffered by any person relying directly or indirectly upon any article within this website. It is recommended that you consult your advisor before acting on this information.

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