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Employers’ Push for Workers to Return to the Office Gets Heated   Featured

Elon Musk grabbed headlines when he recently gave his employees an ultimatum that they return to the office for a minimum of 40 hours per week or lose their jobs. 

elon musk g2976ec871 640While Musk’s emails drew a lot of media attention, he is not alone among employers who are anxious for their employees to return back from working remotely. And while the leverage employees have had during the pandemic that allowed them to work from home is not as strong now, employers still face challenges in getting their staff back to the office.

Musk left no doubt where he stands, Electrek reports. In an email he sent last month, he noted that “Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers.”

In a second email he reiterated the point about the 40-hour work week with the subject line of “To be super clear.”

“Everyone at Tesla is required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office per week,” he wrote. “Moreover, the office must be where your actual colleagues are located, not some remote pseudo office. If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.”

While Musk conceded there might be exceptions, he also said he would personally review such requests and decide whether they are valid. “The more senior you are, the more visible must be your presence,” he wrote in the second email. “That is why I lived in the factory so much–so that those on the line could see me working alongside them. If I had not done that, Tesla would long ago have gone bankrupt.”

Other employers may not be as blunt as Musk, who told The Financial Times that Americans are trying to “avoid going to work at all,” as opposed to Chinese factory workers who toil countless hours and “won't even leave the factory.” But they do want their workers back.

The chief executive of New York City, Mayor Eric Adams, is continuing a mandatory return-to-office policy started under his predecessor for municipal workers, Politico reports. Adams’ chief of staff, Frank Carone, made clear what the mayor wants in an email he sent to agency heads. “Please note, the Mayor has repeatedly emphasized, for the City to continue its comeback, we need employees from every sector to return to their offices. The benefits of this return for the city are immeasurable and we, as City employees, must continue to lead by example,” Carone wrote in the email.

Carone acknowledged that “while hybrid schedules have become more common in the private sector, the Mayor firmly believes that the city needs its workers to report to work every day in person.”

“To that end, all City employees should be advised that, absent a reasonable accommodation, you are required to report to work in person for every scheduled workday and hybrid schedules of any kind are not permitted,” Carone noted.

Employers over the last two years grew concerned about workers never returning, which quickly became coined as the Great Resignation. But many who left their jobs are coming back, only this time to better opportunities and with the realization that they don’t just have to settle, The New York Times reports. “Our employees have the power,” said Tim Ryan, U.S. chair of PwC. His organization is going through a three-year transition that permits for greater work flexibility, including allowing much of their employees to permanently work remotely.

Workers saw their salaries grow almost 10% in the leisure and hospitality sectors over the last year, with retail workers realizing a more than 7% bump in pay. “Most people have never wanted to work and they do so because they need to live,” said Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers. “Now workers are saying, ‘We’re going to hold our bosses accountable and demand more from them.’”

And while white collar workers weren’t ditching their jobs as quickly as workers in hospitality and retail, many were embolden to make demands knowing that unemployment is low and of the high demand for recruits. “There’s the threat of quitting rather than actual quitting,” says Nick Bunker, director of economic research for North America at Indeed’s hiring lab. “Employees realize they do have bargaining power.”

Employers intent on getting their staff back to the office may have some leverage themselves amid rising concerns of a recession, CNBC reports.

Facebook parent Meta, Twitter and Uber have cut back on plans to bring on new workers. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi emailed employees noting that the firm “will treat hiring as a privilege and be deliberate about when and where we add headcount.”

Other employers, such as Carvana and Robinhood, which had recently recruited strongly, are now laying off workers. “We determined that making these reductions to Robinhood’s staff is the right decision to improve efficiency, increase our velocity, and ensure that we are responsive to the changing needs of our customers,” Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev wrote in a blog post where he noted they would be saying goodbye to about 9% of the company’s 3,800 employees.

And even as many concede that remote work won’t ever go away, employers will likely want to see workers report to the office at least part of the week. “The hybrid workforce is not going to go away, but the situation where employees refuse to come to the workplace at all is not likely to hold,” says Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of The Society for Human Resource Management.

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