Coronavirus (COVID-19), HR Management & Compliance

The Divide Between What Employers and Employees Think About Returning to Work

Ask your CEO how successful his or her company culture is. Now ask your employees what they think of their company culture. Odds are you’ll find very different results. The truth is, the employer perspective rarely aligns with the employee perspective. The closer those two are together, the healthier an organization will be. But the farther away those two perspectives are, the more problems the organization will have.

Source: Corona Borealis Studio / Shutterstock

Recent research sought to find the gap between what small business employers and their employees think about recent work-from-home increases. The research comes from Zenefits and is called “Remote Work or Return to Work? Exposing the Gap Between What Employers Think and How Workers Feel.”


When it comes to productivity, there is some alignment among small business employees and employers when it comes to how they feel things are going. Altogether, 63% of respondents felt that productivity has either stayed the same or increased since so many began working from home.

There were mild differences between employers and employees when it came to beliefs that productivity has increased. Twenty-three percent of small business owners (SBOs) and HR believe that productivity has increased versus 28% of employees. Thirty-five percent of those from both groups believed it had decreased. Finally, 40% of SBOs and HR said productivity has stayed the same, but only 35% of employees felt that way.

This topic shows an unusual amount of agreement between employees and employers, but that agreement does not follow through the rest of the research.

Equipment Support at Home

When employees went to work from home, many were doing so for the first time. The move was rushed, which led to a lot of people working from home with inadequate equipment. When employees were asked if they were provided with equipment or a stipend to set up their home office, 56% said yes, and 44% said no. When employers were asked the same question, 83% said they did provide equipment for their staff.

Clearly there are some serious disconnects between the employee experience and how employers viewed their support of those employees. This is a good reason to check in, even now after months of remote work, and make sure your employees have what they need. For all you know, insufficient equipment or access might be the reason you are perceiving a lack of productivity at this time.

Return to Work

The study found that 69% of SBOs and HR will require their employees to return. Only 17% said they would not. However, among those who have been asked to return to work, 35% of employees have refused to do so, citing many reasons.

Employers were asked why those employees refused to return to work. The primary reason among those employees (50%) was that they are receiving more money in unemployment benefits than they would if they were working. Another 43% did not want to risk their health. Other reasons were that they found a new job (33%) and they did not like the new terms of work hours, schedule, or pay cuts (32%).

There are many differences in the employee perspective. When employees were asked if they would return to work if required, 83% said they would. Only 7% said they would not, and another 10% were undecided. When employees were asked why they wouldn’t return, only 26% said they were getting more on unemployment (versus 50% reported by employers).

Another 40% said they did not want to take the health risk, and 37% said they will find a new job that allows remote work. Another 27% said they do not like reduced hours, schedule changes, or the decreased salary.

Employers seem to believe larger percentages of employees will refuse to return and indicate pay disparity as the major reason. However, employees seem to care mostly about their health and, despite that, will largely return to work if need be.

Would You Take a Reduced Salary to Continue to Work from Home?

Employees value their work-from-home status so much that a whopping 44% would take a pay decrease to continue to work from home. Another 52% said they would not accept a decrease to work from home. The remaining sliver, 4%, said they would actually expect a pay increase to continue to work from home.

Final Thoughts

There is clearly a divide between employer expectations and what employees are willing to do. There is also a divide on the reasons employees want to stay home rather than come back to the office. To learn more about this study, click here.