Big companies enforcing RTO mandates may drive workers into the arms of startups and small businesses


The return-to-office mandates by major companies have caused unrest among their employees, creating an opportunity for startups and small businesses to attract top talent. According to Dan Schawbel, a future-of-work expert and managing partner at Workplace Intelligence, big companies' employees may find more flexible working options at smaller firms. Startups and small businesses are more inclined to offer remote work options as they may not want to bear the expenses of expensive office leases. This situation presents an opportunity for these smaller companies to capitalize on the talent pool and grow while competing against larger corporations.

Several major companies such as Google, Goldman Sachs, Meta, Citigroup, Salesforce, and Dell have issued mandates asking their employees to return to the office. The CEOs of these companies have cited improved productivity and collaboration as reasons for these mandates. However, some research indicates that such mandates are adversely affecting morale and causing employees to consider quitting. Schawbel highlighted that these return-to-office requirements are significantly disrupting employees' lives, especially for those who made life decisions based on their companies' promises of flexible work during the pandemic.

Many employees, particularly millennials, made significant life decisions such as moving, buying a house, and settling down, based on the flexibility offered by their employers. Now, the same employers are asking them to return to the office, creating a significant challenge for those who had adjusted to remote work for safety reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Middle managers are feeling the heat as bigwigs like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg wield the axe, leaving fewer heads to handle the mess. For millennial bosses, it’s a wake-up call that’s making them think twice about climbing the corporate ladder.

A survey by Capterra, a productivity software company, tapped into the feelings of middle managers across Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the States and found that 75% of those under 35 feel overwhelmed, stressed, or just plain burnt out.

Rather than toughing it out, nearly half of millennial middle managers are waving goodbye to their careers. The research shows the newer and younger to management, the more likely they are to hit the job market.

With over 40% of managers with less than two years of experience eyeing the exit, some are even open to non-management gigs.

In contrast, just 20% of those with a decade or more under their belt consider calling it quits on middle management.

Middle managers are being cut 

Middle management has always been tricky: They’re constantly caught between supervisors above and the ranks below.

They’re not reimbursed as well as leaders, yet they aren’t regarded as “one of the team” by those below. 

Now, they’ve also got the added stress of implementing and monitoring return-to-office mandates issued by those above them.

To top that off, they’re also being told they’re disposable and are often first to face the chopping block during layoffs. 

Middle managers were the toll in tech companies’ quest for “efficiency” last year.

After laying off thousands of workers, Meta’s CEO Zuckerberg said that “flattening” its internal hierarchy was core to the restructure, and he credited Musk as the source of inspiration behind having “fewer layers of management.”

Meanwhile at Google—where more than 30,000 managers are employed—12,000 people lost their jobs and at Intel Corp., managers’ pay was slashed.

Even beyond the tech industry, layoffs at FedEx mostly impacted managers as the company looked to become a “more efficient, agile organization”.

It’s no wonder millennials, who have just been promoted to management only to be told they’re an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, are feeling the pinch. 

But in the end, it’s businesses that will get burned, according to Brian Westfall, principal HR analyst at Capterra.

“Unless employers can solve the issues causing such high rates of middle manager burnout soon, there won’t be enough managers to go around as older leaders retire,” he warned.

Why are all millennials burned out?

No matter where they sit in the corporate hierarchy, millennials across the board are seemingly more burned out than their peers. 

Capterra’s data comes as young employees in Britain are missing the equivalent of a day’s work every week due to mental health struggles, separate research has shown.

Analysis by Vitality, the health and life insurer with over 30 million members worldwide, found that the average worker in the U.K. feels unable to work for almost 50 days a year—costing the British economy a staggering £138 billion ($176 billion).

For those under 30 years old, the number of productive days lost rises to 60, while Gen X and baby boomers say they are mentally absent for an average of 36.3 workdays a year—marking a stark 64% difference.

According to the researchers, being at the bottom of the pecking order coupled with low wages and concerns about career repercussions if they ask for help is adding to their strain.

Despite being promoted, having an impressive new title, and much more responsibility to go with it, experts have previously echoed to Fortune that this dissatisfaction doesn’t change when millennials enter management because they’re still underpaid.

Ultimately, not holding as much wealth as managers before them—despite putting in the same amount of work, if not more—is leaving millennials feeling disillusioned, undervalued, and exhausted.

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