As Pandemic Wanes, Employers Still Have Concerns About Hybrid Work

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. May 9, 2022
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An employee working from home

​Hybrid work is more popular than ever, despite employer concerns about it. Maintaining company culture and employee engagement tops the list of these concerns, according to Littler's 10th Annual Employer Survey Report, 2022.

A survey of 1,275 in-house lawyers, C-suite executives and HR professionals found that 86 percent of those organizations that had employees working remotely or hadn't shifted to permanent remote work mentioned maintaining company culture and engagement as their main concern about hybrid work.

Other concerns included:

  • Ensuring that remote- or hybrid-work flexibility is applied fairly (cited by 53 percent of the same group of respondents).
  • Efficiency of communication and meetings that are a mix of remote and in-person staff (52 percent).
  • Reduction in mentorship and professional growth opportunities (45 percent).
  • Availability for in-person interaction with clients, customers or other third parties (40 percent).
  • Scheduling obstacles with employees onsite on various days (28 percent).
Two percent of the respondents said they had no concerns about hybrid work.

'Pivotal Moment'

"We are at a pivotal moment in the world of work. Employees have become comfortable with not coming into the office, and, given the current labor market, they have substantial leverage in asserting their preferences," noted Barry Hartstein, an attorney with Littler in Chicago.

"There's plenty of opportunity for employers to retain the benefits of both remote and in-person work, but they must be transparent and communicative with their employees—and approach the discussion with the knowledge that the workplace has irrevocably changed," he said.

Of the survey respondents, 54 percent said they had implemented return-to-office policies as of the end of March with another 13 percent planning to return between April and August. An additional 13 percent planned to return with a yet-to-be-established date, while the remainder did not have any employees working remotely (14 percent) or had shifted permanently to remote work or plan to do so (6 percent).

"Simply because a return-to-office policy is in place, however, does not mean employers are withdrawing flexibility and remote work options," the report noted.

When asked to what extent their organization has offered, or is considering offering, more flexibility or remote-work options to help attract and retain employees, nearly half (47 percent) said they have done so to a great extent, 37 percent said somewhat, and only 13 percent said very little. Just 3 percent said they haven't done so at all. Employers with more than 10,000 employees are particularly open to remote-work options, according to the report.

"These responses are in line with the sentiments of today's labor market," the report stated. In a survey last year of workers by global market research firm Ipsos, 30 percent of employees said they would consider seeking a new job if their current employer required them to return to the office full time. "Not coincidentally, many major companies have integrated remote work into their corporate cultures," the report stated.

Verbatim responses to survey questions about hybrid work provided additional context, with respondents citing the challenge of:

  • Practicing equitable and inclusive behavior when there is a mix of remote and in-person staff.
  • The impact on innovation stemming from a hybrid work model.
  • Issues that may stem from employees working from home across state lines.

The report also found a so-called executive/employee disconnect, as three-quarters of executives said they want to work from the office three to five days a week, compared with about one-third of nonexecutive employees.

Mandatory Vaccination Policies

The report also noted that of those employers with mandatory vaccination policies, 63 percent said the policies apply to all employees, 22 percent said they apply only in certain locations and 15 percent said they apply only to a subset of employees based on job responsibility—such as those with required in-person interaction or work-related travel.

When asked whether their organizations had a policy requiring COVID-19 vaccination or regular testing, 41 percent said yes, 56 percent said no and that they wouldn't unless required by law, 1 percent said not currently but they are planning to soon, and 2 percent said they still are determining their vaccination policies.

Organizations with more than 10,000 employees are slightly more likely to require vaccinations (46 percent) than smaller businesses, according to the report. Nearly 80 percent of health care organizations have such policies in place—understandably, given regulations specific to that industry, the report noted. The proportion was lower for respondents in manufacturing (16 percent) and hospitality or retail (30 percent).

"Employers broadly recognize the potential benefits of increasing COVID-19 vaccination but the lack of a uniform public policy approach and concerns about competition for talent leave many businesses without an easy way to get there," stated Devjani Mishra, an attorney with Littler in New York City.

"As more employees return to onsite work, the implications of living with COVID will really come to the fore—and every course of action has consequences for worker safety and business continuity," she noted. "Employers must focus on understanding worker sentiment, monitoring vaccination rates in their workplace, considering the implications of evolving and divergent rules and regulations, and weighing the various costs associated with having—or not having—vaccination and testing policies in place."

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