Resentment mounts as some employees are forced to return to the office and some are allowed to work from home

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  • Some workers are forced to return to the office while others are allowed to stay at home.
  • Workplace experts warn that employees opt out when they feel their return-to-work policy is arbitrary.
  • Managers must be transparent about how these decisions are made or risk losing workers and profits, these experts say.

In a recent letter to the New York Times “Work Friend” column, an anonymous writer complained that they were forced to return to the office while their older colleagues were allowed to stay home. They felt frustrated, they wrote, with what they saw as arbitrary and unequal demands on when and where they worked.

Workplace experts told Insider that complaints like this are not unusual — in fact, the migration to the office has been arbitrarily and unevenly enforced in workplaces across the country, resulting in frustration, resentment and crumbling morale.

And it’s a problem that hasn’t diminished even two and a half years into the pandemic.

“I actually think hybrid workforces are the most challenging environments, more than completely remote and more than environments where everyone is forced back into the office,” said Jessica Kriegel, chief culture scientist at the location. work at Culture Partners, a workplace culture consultancy.

Solving the “Isn’t Like Flipping a Switch” Problem

The question of where, when, and how employees should work sounds like a separate type of 2022 problem, but these types of tensions are nothing new — they’ve been around long before we started working from home, Kira Meinzer, human resources manager at immigration services firm Envoy Global, told Insider.

“If we just use bankers as an example,” Meinzer said, “the bank teller has different hours than the investment banker because they’re different jobs. So there has to be some separation of understanding : not everything can be equal because the roles are different.”

The difference now is that our routines, while quickly turned upside down in 2020, have become quite locked down. Asking workers to change once more — to put their children back in after-school programs, for example, or to pay for an expensive commute — isn’t like flipping a switch, Meinzer said.

Additionally, our societal understanding of workplace equity has changed. Applying the rules in a way that appears arbitrary to employees could have downsides.

“If you give two different types of employees different access to work, you potentially create an equity problem,” said Thomas Roulet, associate professor of organizational theory at the University of Cambridge.

In the long run, this could hurt a company’s bottom line because employees can “look at what other people are getting in their organization, look at what they’re getting, and compare,” Roulet said.

“If they feel like they’re putting in a lot more than the next person, with no reward, they’re going to disengage and they’re going to be demotivated,” he said.

To be sure, not all workplaces unevenly enforce in-person work requirements: some allow workers to choose whether to return to the office and, if so, how often. Some have required all workers to report in person without exception, while others have given up office space altogether.

Communication is key

So how can companies – and employees – better manage this tension?

Bradford Bell, professor of strategic human resources at Cornell University, said the source of employee resentment may not lie in hybrid working itself, but in a lack of effective communication from managers.

“I think the bigger question is what leads to this resentment?” he said. “I think in some cases it may be because organizations have not been transparent about how these decisions are made. Why are some employees allowed to work from home while others are required to come into the office? Do employees understand the rationale behind these decisions? Is there even a rationale behind these decisions?”

Bell warned that this ineffective communication could lead to increased staff turnover.

Meinzer echoed the need for clear communication from employers – without this communication, she said, companies run the risk of their employees seeing office work as a punishment, not a benefit. .

But she also stressed the need for workers to be open-minded as well.

“Companies are experimenting to see if something works, and many employees have to be just as flexible to try their luck,” she said. “It takes a bit of time to get into that rhythm.”

Does your return to work policy seem unfair to you? We want to hear about it: Contact journalists Samantha Delouya ( or Avery Hartmans (

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