Employers and workers are at odds over work-life balance — here’s who is winning


At the end of last year, Wayfair

 CEO Niraj Shah had a clear message for workers heading into 2024: “Winning takes hard work.”

“Working long hours, being responsive, blending work and life, is not anything to shy away from,” Shah wrote in an email to employees first obtained by Business Insider. “There is not a lot of history of laziness being rewarded with success,” Shah wrote.

The online furniture retailer, which also recently announced layoffs, has been working aggressively to return to profitability as the home market remains under pressure. In a statement, a Wayfair spokesperson responded to criticism of the CEO’s message. “In his note, Niraj was reinforcing some of the values that have contributed to Wayfair’s success, including questioning the status quo, being cost-efficient and working hard together to drive results.”

However, employees now have other priorities, new research shows, and more time at the office is not one of them.

While 56% of workers consider themselves to be ambitious, 47% are not focused on career progression at all, according to Randstad’s latest Workmonitor, which surveyed 27,000 workers globally.   

Employees are more likely to consider work-life balance, flexible hours and mental health support as more important, the report found. 

Employees would quit rather than give up hybrid work

To that end, fewer want to spend any more time at the office than they already do.

Since the Covid pandemic, a significant number of workers have moved or made other changes to their lives based on being able to work remotely, at least some of the time.

To that point, 37% of workers now say they would consider quitting their job if their employer asked them to spend more time in the office, and 39% say that working from home is non-negotiable, Randstad found.  

“We saw a huge acceleration of the shift to hybrid work during the pandemic and people don’t want to give this up,” said Sander van ’t Noordende, Randstad’s CEO.

And yet, some employers continue to push return-to-office mandates.

Citing productivity among other concerns, companies such as Amazon, Disney, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and Walmart recently revised their hybrid and remote work policies. A few organizations even threatened to fire workers who don’t return to the office for a certain number of days.

“There is a growing gap in understanding between employers and talent,” van ’t Noordende said.

Also among high-paying job listings, fully remote and hybrid opportunities fell 12% and 69%, respectively, at the end of 2023, while in-person postings jumped 93%, according to a separate report from career site Ladders. 

“Companies that were previously offering hybrid roles are now increasingly posting in-office positions, especially for jobs paying over $200,000,” said John Mullinix, director of growth marketing at Ladders, in an emailed statement. 

Hybrid work is here to stay, for now

Although some companies are ramping up return-to-office plans, most hybrid work arrangements are staying — for now, according to another survey by the Conference Board. Only, 4% of US CEOs said they will prioritize bringing workers back to the office full time in the year ahead.

The share of paid work-from-home days was flat in 2023, Nick Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University, recently told CNBC. In a post on X, he wrote, “Return to the office is dead.”

With top talent still in high demand, employers have to be more flexible and amenable to workers’ wants and needs as it relates to working remotely, according to Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster, as well as increased time off policies and shorter work weeks.

“This is excellent news for workers who need that flexibility,” she said.

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