UK employees say they’d rather quit than return to the office

Big name employers have been forcing employees back into the office, but younger workers are fighting back.

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Employers confronting hiked business rates should think twice before snubbing hybrid working, as a new report finds employees would rather quit their job than return to the office.

The British Business Expert awards polled over 2,000 workers to examine UK employment trends. The results show, of the workers who are considering looking for a new role, 64% are doing so after being told to come into the office full-time.

Talent shortages have made recruitment and retention two of the biggest challenges currently facing SMEs. In light of the findings, and amid mounting staff turnover rates, bosses should tread carefully on the issue of hybrid work policies.

While sending workers back to their desks would mean more cost-efficient use of the workplace, the research suggests the resulting fallout could cancel out these savings as staff react by jumping ship.

The rise (and fall?) of hybrid working

Hybrid working underwent a meteoric rise during the pandemic, as organisations alternated between open and closed throughout various spikes in COVID infection rates.

The perk has since remained in favour as one of the most popular flexible working arrangements. Workers seem keen to hold onto the health and wellbeing advantages it brings, such as greater work-life balance.

Nonetheless, company owners have been growing impatient with the slow progress, adding fuel to the already fiery return-to-office debate.

The dispute is being spurred by rising business rates and rent costs. High-profile employers like Elon Musk have hit the headlines after pressuring their employees to work at least 40 hours a week in the office, or resign.

Official figures show that a quarter of UK today’s workers are now hybrid, compared to over 40% in 2022.

Overall, however, workers are still winning the fight. Senior leaders at Google and JP Morgan are amongst those who have made multiple unsuccessful efforts to coax employees back to their desks – prompting worker chagrin.

Such case studies should act as a warning to small business owners. The threat of mass quittings over a policy change is far from empty: a poll of 2,000 workers found 37% have already looked for a new role in preparation for anything going wrong in their current job.

Ben Marks is the founder and executive director of the #WorkAnywhere Campaign. Marks comments: “As the world continues to adapt to new ways of working, we need to recognise that a dogmatic back to the office approach is a huge step backwards in our life-work relationship.

“The benefits of hybrid work are not just economic – studies show that it also improves employee productivity. A comprehensive study of 16,000 workers by Stanford University, indicates that remote workers tend to be more productive than their in-office counterparts.”

Youth must be served

That hybrid work has become a resigning issue for UK workers reflects the shifting dynamics in today’s employment landscape.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show that a record number of people have stopped working as a result of stress and burnout. The latest UK labour market figures show that vacant job roles currently sit at 1,034,000.

Job seekers are actively seeking meaningful work with an employer who cares about the wellbeing and needs of their employees. For many SMEs, hybrid working has therefore formed an important part of the benefits and perks package to attract staff.

Driving this trend is the new generation of employees, who have entered the workforce during a period of change post-COVID. Gen Z staff members have ushered in a more relaxed approach to organisational culture, putting an emphasis on roles that accommodate both personal and professional commitments.

Their preference for remote or hybrid working is even helping to boost the UK’s side hustle economy. 92% of Gen Z company founders started their business while working full-time.

We’ve written extensively about the labour shortages currently plaguing small businesses. As today’s job seekers call for remote work, firms that promote hybrid work in job ads and employee packages will have a much easier time attracting top talent.

Sarah Austin, director at the British Business Expert awards, comments: “Organisations should meet the evolving expectations of the modern workforce.

“Companies that prioritise work-life balance will be well-positioned to attract and retain top talent, drive innovation and achieve long-term success in the dynamic and competitive business landscape.”

Could coworking be the answer?

An alternative solution to slamming the brakes on hybrid working could be to invest in a more flexible workplace provision, such as coworking space.

Searches for coworking spaces shot up in April, as SMEs began hunting for cheaper office locations to navigate the cost of living crisis.

It is likely no coincidence that the pique in interest came in the week after business rates were raised. The change saw the average rateable value of a UK office increase by 10%, on average.

Many coworking providers have added flexible payment plans to their pricing tiers, to provide a more affordable option specifically for hybrid businesses. Teams can come into the office on set days, and avoid paying for a space they aren’t using.

Startups recently spoke to one small business owner who had switched to a coworking space last year to mitigate rising overheads. They reported huge savings worth £1,200 per month (or £14,400 per year).

This is not to mention the money made back on avoiding hiring costs, as hybrid coworking also means staff members can have full control over the number of days they want to spend in the office.

Research is the best way to gauge the financial savings that coworking spaces can bring – and evaluate whether they are worth the time and resources spent on relocating or downsizing office space.

The below guides have more information on the shared office options available in the three largest UK cities:

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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