Is your boss ‘quiet firing’ you with an RTO mandate?

Research finds a quarter of business executives hoped bringing staff back into the office would make employees quit.

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Helena Young
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This year, a long list of companies have introduced return to work (RTO) mandates. Some are so strict, they have resulted in many employees looking for work elsewhere. And according to one employer survey, that might have been the goal all along.

HR software biz BambooHR surveyed more than 1,500 US-based employees (33% of whom work in HR) for their views on current employment trends. One quarter of executives, and a fifth of HR professionals, admitted they hoped RTO mandates would result in staff leaving.

The findings indicate that some of today’s office-based employers are co-opting the return to work in order to practise ‘quiet firing’, where staff are pushed out of a role without knowing.

What is quiet firing?

Using RTO mandates to create an unattractive work environment for staff is an example of ‘quiet firing’. This employment trend has emerged as the foil to quiet quitting, a movement instigated by employees that sees workers do the bare minimum at work and no more.

Quiet firing is the company’s own silent protest against employee behaviour. In this case, their preference for remote work instead of attending the office.

When ‘quietly firing’ staff, management will purposefully create negative work conditions to make an employee quit. For example, by holding back on offering promotions to companies.

Dell Technologies made headlines earlier this year when the software company warned hybrid and remote workers they will be less likely to get a promotion.

Some companies are not hiding their true intentions. Manchester United boss, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, offered remote workers an early bonus last month if they resigned, after some expressed discontent with the company’s new work policy.

RTOs lead to lower engagement

Efforts to force staff out of the workforce using RTOs might not be as successful as some employers are hoping, however.

37% of respondents in leadership roles think their employer has made layoffs due to too few people quitting in protest of RTO policies, the BambooHR report found.

Instead of resulting in a wave of voluntary redundancies, return to office policies are more likely to result in reduced workforce engagement, as workers rebel against losing access to one of the most in-demand employee benefits.

Lloyds Bank recently discovered this when it rolled back its remote work policy. Lloyd’s 2023 employee index shows that the change caused satisfaction levels to fall by 12%.

Know your flexible working rights

In the global RTO debate, employers offer many arguments against home working. Some, such as Boots and WebMD, say it negatively impacts company culture. Others argue it makes teams less productive, which could be why they want remote staff members to quit.

Yet the BambooHR study suggests that some employers with RTO mandates in place are not testing this theory. 22% of HR professionals who responded to the survey admitted that, despite going the RTO route, they had no metrics in place to measure success.

They are also bucking the trend, not leading it. Startups research has found that flexible working is still on the rise in the UK.

In large part, this is due to the Flexible Working Bill, which made it a legal requirement for businesses to offer flexible work options (such as hybrid working, a four-day week, and job sharing) to staff from day one of their employment.

Employers who can move away from the office, and modernise their approach to work, could be best-placed to take advantage of the cultural and legal shift towards flexible working.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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