Retaining High-Performers, Millennials as Return to Office Policies Evolve

Strict on-site requirements can negatively impact talent attraction and retention, particularly for high-performers, women, and millennials.

Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer

April 17, 2024

4 Min Read
silhouette of office workers
Bill Cheyrou via Alamy Stock

Inflexible return-to-office (RTO) policies could lead to the departure of top talent, particularly among women and millennials, posing risks for organizations who push in-office mandates too strongly.  

According to a recent Gartner survey of 2,080 knowledge workers, women, millennials and high-performance employees were the most likely to quit in the event of an organization imposing strict RTO policies.  

The rationale behind these policies also matters: The survey found organizations that communicate a clear reason for working onsite saw higher employee engagement, discretionary effort, and retention. 

Paul Wallenberg, who handles technology staffing and recruiting for LaSalle Networks, says he agrees, noting the "choose your own adventure" RTO hybrid schedule is not landing well with employees. 

"If you need people back in the office, make sure everybody's there on the same day, so that it seems more intentional," he says. 

Wallenburg says successful companies handling this issue will follow a dual approach. 

Firstly, they must establish the ideal scenario at the board or executive level and articulate the significance behind it. 

Second, they must conduct surveys among employees to identify the motivators influencing their return to the office. 

Related:Quick Study: Managing and Supporting Remote Work

“The message about coming back to the office needs to be more about community, which hopefully ties to some sort of mission or value statement,” Wallenburg says.  

Flexible, Hybrid RTO Schedules  

Caitlin Duffy, research director for Gartner's human resources practice, says organizations will better position themselves to engage and retain employees if they ensure their RTO model is flexible enough to accommodate different needs and preferences. 

“Employees who felt like their needs were considered in their hybrid work arrangement demonstrated higher engagement, performance, and intent to stay at the organization,” she says in an email interview. 

She adds that employees who were able to shape their teams' hybrid work arrangements demonstrated higher engagement and discretionary effort.  

Hired CEO Josh Brenner explains that retaining high-performing talent is not just a matter of policy, but also a matter of showing empathy toward employees’ well-being by understanding and accommodating the diverse needs of different employee groups. “For example, women often have additional responsibilities such as childcare in addition to their 9-5 roles,” he says via email. 

If companies choose to impose inflexible policies without considering these circumstances, it can lead to employee dissatisfaction and potentially high attrition rates. 

Related:Technology and the Pandemic: Complete Coverage for IT Leaders

According to data from Hired, 85% of women prefer fully remote roles, compared to 78% of men, indicating how important it is to take these factors into account.  

Brenner says when companies decide how to bring staff back to the office, they must weigh the pros and cons. 

Those who truly prioritize their workers’ preferences are more likely to attract talented employees, and access a wider range of skills, and innovative perspectives. "Nowadays, in a competitive world where innovation is key, companies that support these things will be more likely to succeed," he says.  

He says that the reality is that mandating strict RTO policies is rarely the best approach and is likely to alienate high-performing employees and women -- along with other employee subsects who value work-life balance. 

Brenner points to research showing women employees are 1.3 times more likely to feel disrespected than their male companions by inflexible corporate rules. “To avoid that, companies would be wise to adopt flexible, smart policies that aren’t enforced by potential penalties and aren’t overly rigid in their parameters,” he says.  

The Role of HR, Feedback Strategies  

Related:The CIO’s Role in Setting the Remote Work Agenda

Involving and listening to employees is crucial for successful policy implementation and organizational resilience. 

Hannah Johnson, senior vice president for tech talent programs at CompTIA, says millennials, having gained experience and holding leadership positions, expect trust from organizations in their abilities. “Mandates without their input risk undermining this trust and productivity,” she says. 

Involving high performers, women, and millennials in policy discussions fosters inclusivity and ensures policies align with employee needs. 

"Transparency, ongoing communication, and regular reviews are vital for maintaining trust and effectiveness,” she says. “Excluding impacted individuals leaves organizations reactive rather than proactive, risking talent loss.” 

Duffy says HR plays a critical role in understanding not only different employees’ attitudes and preferences about hybrid work, but also how different arrangements impact key performance outcomes and business goals. 

"Management's desires to mandate a return to onsite work may stem from outdated assumptions, not evidence-based inputs from the organization," she points out.  

Brenner advises HR to collaborate with internal teams to gather data on employee productivity and well-being under different work models such as remote, hybrid, or in-office. 

At Hired, employee surveys were implemented to understand their own teams’ working model preferences to determine the company's work-from-home model. 

He says it’s important to provide employees with multiple avenues to voice their concerns, recommending companies adopt proactive feedback strategies to consistently manage employee satisfaction and work to correct when they’re seeing dips. 

Leveraging anonymous channels for feedback can be especially effective for organizations to help employees feel safe and supported to voice their concerns, especially regarding a rigid return-to-office policy. 

"This proactive approach can help companies retain top talent who may value flexible work arrangements," Brenner says.  

About the Author(s)

Nathan Eddy

Freelance Writer

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights