Employees Protest After Company Reverses Remote Work Policy

Kathryn Mayer By Kathryn Mayer June 6, 2023

Farmers Group is reversing its remote work policy for its employees—a move that is leading thousands of its workers to push back.

The insurance company had told most of its employees last year they could permanently work remotely, but chief executive officer Raul Vargas, who recently took over, said last month he is reversing the approach and requiring employees to be in the office at least three days a week starting this fall, arguing being in the office will help promote collaboration.

Employers have been offering carrots and sticks to employees to entice them to return to physical workplaces—for example, free lunches and onsite child care for those who return and discipline for those who continue to work remotely without approval. Business leaders cite declines in productivity and collaboration as reasons for requiring a return to the workplace.

The move from Farmers Group is the latest example of the growing tug of war between employers and employees when it comes to remote work policies. Companies like Amazon and the Walt Disney Co. also have reversed remote work policies, telling employees they have to return to in-person work the majority of the week. Those reversals are causing many workers to protest and threaten to quit.

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SHRM Online rounded up additional news on the topic.

Farmers Employees Upset, Some Say They've Moved

Employees of the Los Angeles-based Farmers Group have been posting negative comments about the policy reversal on the company's internal social media platform, arguing the reversal is a power move.

Some employees also said they sold their homes and moved to other cities away from offices because of the ability to work remotely. Others said the reversal will cause them to quit.

A spokesperson for Farmers told The Wall Street Journal that the new policy will affect about 60 percent of the company's U.S. workforce of about 22,000 employees. The spokesperson also said the announced policy will go into effect in September, which will give employees three months to adjust and make arrangements.

(The Wall Street Journal)

Return-to-Office Mandates May Cause Workers to Quit

Recent research offers a warning to employers about implementing return-to-office (RTO) policies: Nearly 7 in 10 employees (68 percent) said they would rather look for a new job than return to the office, according to a survey of more than 1,000 remote workers by Clarify Capital, a financial consultancy in New York City. That number is even higher among Generation Z workers, 79 percent of whom said they would look for a new job over returning to the office.

"Our research suggests employers should reconsider forcing employees back into offices if they don't have to," Nishank Khanna, chief marketing officer of Clarify Capital, told SHRM Online. "Employers can also attempt to meet in the middle and offer a more flexible work schedule or allow employees to work from home a certain number of days per week or month."

(SHRM Online)

Disney Workers Petitioned Against RTO

Thousands of Disney employees signed a petition asking Disney CEO Bob Iger to reconsider the company's new RTO policy that he announced in January. Employees argued that a return to the office is likely to "have unintended consequences that cause long-term harm to the company" and will lead to "forced resignations among some of our most hard-to-replace talent and vulnerable communities." They also allege it that will dramatically "reduce productivity, output and efficiency."

Disney appears to also be moving ahead with its RTO policy despite the employee opposition.

At the time of Iger's RTO policy announcement, HR leaders told SHRM Online that although the mandate wasn't necessarily surprising in light of more relaxed pandemic-related measures, such a policy could have the potential to backfire. That's because remote work and flexibility have been overwhelmingly popular and desired by employees after nearly three years of the practice.

"This attempt to reclaim authority and control over employees risks damaging future returns," warned Ian Cook, vice president of people analytics at Visier, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based analytics firm.

(SHRM Online)

Amazon Employees Held Demonstration Against RTO Policy

Earlier this year, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy announced that corporate workers would be required to spend at least three days a week in offices—a policy that Amazon workers are fighting.

Thousands of the e-commerce giant's employees have been protesting Amazon's updated requirement—a reversal from its pandemic-era policy that had allowed managers to determine how often employees needed to work in person. And just last week, hundreds of Amazon workers held a lunchtime walkout against the company's RTO policy.

(SHRM Online and SHRM Online)

Some Firms Continuing Remote Policies See Benefits

Although a handful of employers are mandating a return to offices after nearly three years of remote work due to the pandemic, many employers are continuing to embrace remote work.

Insurance giant Allstate, for example, said it will allow employees to decide for themselves if they want to stay remote or work in offices. After giving employees the choice, 83 percent of Allstate workers are fully remote. Allowing employees to be remote has also resulted in a 60 percent increase in applications and a 30 percent increase in candidates from underrepresented demographics, Stephanie Roseman, vice president of people solutions and experiences at Allstate, recently told SHRM Online.

"It's enabled us to find the best talent," Roseman said. "That's a really compelling thing for us."

(SHRM Online)



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