Some Business Leaders Welcome RTO-Driven Employee Attrition

We have previously discussed  the potential trade-off between talent recruitment and retention on the one hand and Return-to-Office (RTO) policies on the other. Many employees have expressed a strong preference for remote work, with some stating they would rather quit than return to the office. This sentiment has raised concerns about the impact of RTO policies on employee morale and retention. However, recent data suggests that, for some companies, this might have been part of the plan all along.

All Attrition Is Not, Necessarily, Bad Attrition

According to a new study by BambooHR, nearly one in three (32%) managers admit that the main goal for RTO policies was to track employees. This surveillance aspect highlights a desire for increased control and oversight, which remote work environments might lack. More strikingly, the study reveals that one in four (25%) VP and C-suite executives and one in five (18%) HR professionals hoped for some voluntary turnover as a result of RTO policies. This indicates a strategic move to encourage attrition among employees who are less willing to return to the office.

This approach can be linked to several factors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies over-hired to meet the surge in demand for various services and products. Now, as the job market cools and business operations stabilize, some companies find themselves overstaffed. The push for RTO, coupled with the expectation of voluntary turnover, can be seen as a method to reduce headcount without resorting to layoffs, which can be costly and damaging to a company’s reputation.

Benefits of Voluntary Attrition

Voluntary attrition allows companies to streamline their workforce naturally and retain only those employees who are more adaptable to changing work environments. This strategy also represents a significant shift in the power dynamic between employers and employees.

During the pandemic, employees had more leverage to demand perks like remote and hybrid work arrangements. However, as the urgency of the pandemic wanes and economic conditions shift, employers are reclaiming some of that control.

The admission by roughly one quarter of executives and HR professionals that voluntary attrition is at least part of the motivation for some RTO policies suggests that the future of work may be less flexible than many employees had hoped, with companies favoring in-person oversight and engagement.

For employees, it underscores the importance of adaptability and readiness to meet evolving workplace expectations. While RTO policies have sparked concerns about talent retention, they also reveal a calculated strategy by some companies to manage workforce levels and reclaim control over work environments. This evolving dynamic highlights the need for both employers and employees to navigate the changing landscape with a keen understanding of underlying motives and strategic goals.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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