RTO or retire? Employers may be all too happy to push older workers to decide Some experts say companies could have an ulterior motive for ending work from home—and it’s not about ‘company culture.’


U.S. companies are gradually implementing return-to-office mandates for white-collar workers as the pandemic subsides. According to a survey, 90% of these companies plan to have such policies in place by the end of next year. The primary motivation behind this shift is productivity concerns for employers. However, many workers, who have proved their ability to work remotely and independently, fail to see the point of returning to physical offices. They believe that commuting would require them to sacrifice time and money without any significant benefit.

Moreover, return-to-office mandates have a particularly strong impact on older workers. Survey data reveals that as many as 25% of employees over the age of 50 are more likely to retire due to these mandates. In contrast, 43% of older workers would be less inclined to retire if they could continue working remotely. This indicates that remote work options are a crucial factor in the retirement decisions of older employees.

In the current labor market, where the economy is showing unexpected strength, employers may face disadvantages in the battle for talent by pushing out a portion of the workforce through return-to-office mandates. This could undermine their ability to attract and retain skilled workers. However, experts suggest that this may be part of a larger cost-cutting strategy by employers. By replacing older workers with younger ones who typically have lower salaries and healthcare costs, companies could potentially improve their bottom line. It also presents an opportunity for employers to reduce their older workforce without facing accusations of age discrimination.

Interestingly, there is resistance to return-to-office mandates from a different segment of the workforce. Some employers have reported pushback from individuals in their thirties and forties with young families. These workers may have additional time constraints and childcare costs, making it challenging for them to accommodate a return to the office.

While different factors need to be considered, such as industry, geography, and cultural differences, there are both advantages and disadvantages to bringing employees back into the office. Ultimately, employers must be able to justify the need for physical workspaces and address the accompanying costs to workers, especially for older employees. Currently, employers have not been successful in providing a solid rationale for return-to-office mandates.

The need for higher wages and improved working conditions remains crucial for older workers. While there have been some improvements in these areas, they have not been sufficient. As a result, there is a surplus of labor available. Pushing out experienced workers in their forties, fifties, and sixties may save on payroll costs, but it also means losing valuable talent and expertise that is challenging to quantify.

Employers who wish to bring their workers back to the office will need to make a greater effort and provide solid justification for resuming the commute. Offering perks like free food and social events may not be enough to convince employees to return. Instead, employers should provide compelling reasons for employees of all ages to come back to the office.

In summary, return-to-office mandates can benefit companies' bottom lines and some workers, but employers need to offer more than just incentives to entice employees back. A thoughtful and logical approach is essential to accommodate the needs of both workers and businesses.  

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