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Bosses and workers still clash over return to office

CBS News 4/26/2023 Megan Cerullo
Woman carrying laptop, purse and reusable coffee cup to work © Carlina Teteris / Getty Images Woman carrying laptop, purse and reusable coffee cup to work

Three years since the pandemic spurred the remote work phenomenon, employees want to retain their flexibility, while bosses are prioritizing satisfying customers over workers.

Instances of the latter have included employers rescinding prized perks like the option to work from anywhere, and cheering on workers who make personal sacrifices in order to show up to work in person. 

For example, James Clarke, CEO of digital marketing company Clearlink, drew fire online after praising a worker who sold their family dog in order to return to the office. 

Research shows that companies are becoming "disproportionately" focused on their customers' needs, often at the expense of their workers. 

An analysis of S&P 500 companies' earnings calls transcripts found that company executives talk about customers 10 times more often than employees. And when discussing employees, executives were more likely to correlate them to risk factors and consumers to growth opportunities.


That's a reversal from the once common refrain among executives that employees are a company's greatest asset. 

Disproportionate focus on the customer

"One reason for the growing dissatisfaction might be that company priorities are disproportionately focused on the customer, while shortchanging the employees," Columbia Business School Professor Stephan Meier wrote.

Some workers even say they wouldn't accept a job that doesn't allow them to work from home at least part time. They are either quitting or forming petitions to protest return to office mandates, according to Axios reporter Eleanor Hawkins.

"It's a key sticking point for many employees," Hawkins told CBS News. "They embraced workplace flexibility."

Employers even report receiving fewer applications for in-person jobs versus those that offer workplace flexibility. It "continues to be a priority for job seekers," Hawkins said. "That's something they're looking for when applying for jobs."

In addition to flexibility, workers also prize job security and a company's profitability. 

"It shows while they are very interested in the performance of the company, they need and want that flexibility and maybe they're not willing to go all in on corporate loyalty," Hawkins said.

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