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Disney Employees Push Back Against Return-to-Office Mandate


A crowded street in disney world with cinderella castle in the background.


​Weeks after Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger announced he would require many of Disney's corporate employees to return to the office four days a week, thousands of them are pushing back.

According to The Washington Post, roughly 2,300 Disney employees signed a petition asking Iger to reconsider the policy. Employees argue 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 will dramatically "reduce productivity, output, and efficiency."

"This policy will slow, or even reverse, our post-COVID recovery and growth," the petition reads, "by creating critical resource shortages and causing irreplaceable institutional knowledge loss."

Last month, Iger told employees they will have to be in offices four days a week starting in March—a split from many firms that are continuing to largely embrace remote work.

"As you've heard me say many times, creativity is the heart and soul of who we are and what we do at Disney," Iger said in his memo, according to CNBC. "And in a creative business like ours, nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe, and create with peers that comes from being physically together, nor the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from leaders and mentors."

At the time, 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.

Geoff Webb, vice president of solution strategy at Charlotte, N.C.-based software firm isolved, added that since many employees have become accustomed to remote and hybrid work, a sudden shift back into offices will likely "cause some portion of employees to evaluate their priorities and expectations from an employer."

Recent research also offers a warning to employers about implementing such policies: Nearly seven 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.

Those findings suggest "employers should reconsider forcing employees back into offices if they don't have to," said Nishank Khanna, chief marketing officer at Clarify Capital. "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."

Weeks after Iger's return-to-office mandate, Disney announced significant layoffs. The company plans to cut some 7,000 jobs.

It's unclear if the employee petition will change Disney's plans, especially amid the company's layoffs. However, employee backlash has affected other major employers' decisions. General Motors, for instance, told corporate employees in September they would be required to return to physical offices at least three days a week—but after employees objected, the automotive manufacturer said it would listen to employee feedback before implementing official changes.

Despite the opposition, return-to-office plans are increasing. Amazon just told employees they would have to return to offices three days a week starting May 1, while video game developer Activision Blizzard similarly said employees need to work in-person three days a week.

"We're still seeing many companies exhibit flexibility toward remote work, but some have been or are beginning to require at least two to three days in the office," said Michelle Swiatkowski, HR manager at VAI, a tech firm based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. "I think this trend will continue in 2023."

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