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The Chairman's Blog
Office Workers: Quietly Changing
The Chairman's Blog

Office Workers: Quietly Changing

Gallup finds 90% of office workers don’t want to return to the old ways of working.

Imagine if university chancellors told students, “You are no longer required to physically attend class, so just make good decisions each morning when you wake up.” 

I recently asked a famous Harvard professor if his students would regularly attend class in person if they were left to decide for themselves. His exact words: “They would make one bad decision after another.” He is referring to the best students in the world.

A few weeks later we hosted a Nobel laureate Princeton professor here at Gallup. Like the other professor, he is an extraordinary developer of bright young minds at one of the top universities in the world -- and he agreed with the Harvard professor.


We can assume that mature professionals in the workplace will make better decisions than college students. Staying home most days makes life seemingly easier for both students and employees. However, Gallup finds that for fully remote employees, staying home comes with the risk of creating serious mental health issues such as loneliness and depression. Full-time remote workers are also increasingly detached from their employers psychologically and less committed to customers. 

This all leads to lower productivity, which quickly affects customer retention, cash flow and the growth of your organization -- and eventually, the nation’s economic future. This is a more serious macroeconomic issue than most know.

We are at a turning point. Leaders are right to be increasingly concerned about the quiet change underway in the workplace. They need solutions that are best for employees, managers and national productivity -- and eventually economic success for all. 

CEOs are doing their best to entice workers back to the office. Some big companies are demanding employees return. 

An executive from a Fortune 100 company asked me at lunch recently why their employees aren’t coming back -- even under a new policy of “attendance review” (think: threat of firing). My answer was, “Because their managers don’t come in.” Among hybrid workers, managers are in the office 2.8 days per week and employees are in 2.5 days.

If your highest-level leaders are working from distant locations, the issue isn’t the followers -- it’s the leaders. 

Followers need strong, caring leadership. It is why leadership has evolved over thousands of years into such a significant phenomenon. Societies and constituencies develop and win more in the presence of strong leadership.

These findings are from Gallup’s study of the U.S. workplace:

1. Of the 125 million full-time workers in the United States, 50% -- more than 60 million office workers -- tell Gallup they can do their jobs from home. Of that 60 million, a whopping 90% report they don’t want to come to the office five days a week.

2. Thirty percent (30%) of them want to come in zero days, 60% want to come in two to four days and 10% want to come in five days.

3. Consider these facts:

Virtual collaboration is less effective than in-person.

Two to three office days a week boosts employee engagement and wellbeing.

Fully remote employees have a declining connection to mission and purpose.

If your highest-level leaders are working from distant locations, the issue isn’t the followers – it’s the leaders. 

Gallup’s Recommended Hybrid Solution:   

Step 1: Clarify hybrid for highly collaborative roles as: “five full days of work per week, including three full days in the office.” Next, we advise: “Anything less than three days in the office is considered remote.” Hold the line on this decision for the good of your employees, your organization and your country.

Step 2:  Establish Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday as on-site days. Team members must be in the office on the same predictable days for highest value interactions.

Step 3:  Establish your decision as a necessary promise to each other for the best possible collaboration. It is up to each manager to hold team members accountable.  

Step 4: Individual achievers may work from home if their manager deems their job to be primarily transactional. They might come in several days per month for meetings and events, using hoteling space, but will be officially categorized as remote.   

Step 5: According to Gallup, 70% of the variance in team employee engagement can be explained by one factor -- the manager. Say this to board members: “Our solution to widespread quiet quitting and declining productivity is to transform the quality of managers at all levels.” 

Step 6: Create a new internal certification system to develop managers to meet the demands of the new hybrid workplace. This should be highly customized to your organization’s purpose and ultimately aimed at customer centricity. This is the CEO’s full hybrid transformation plan. As serious as Six Sigma and lean certifications (think: black belt or no promotion). 

If the father of the quality movement, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, were advising us in the current environment, he would categorize a weak manager as a defect.

Step 7: Get the structure and expectations right going forward. Announce that future promotions to the position of manager or team leader will require the new certification and a full hybrid commitment (three full days on-site per week at a minimum). 

Step 8: This has to be a CEO-led initiative or it won’t work.


Jim Clifton is Chairman of Gallup and bestselling author of Culture Shock, Born to Build, The Coming Jobs War, Wellbeing at Work and the No. 1 Wall Street Journal bestseller It’s the Manager. He is the creator of The Gallup Path, a metric-based economic model that shows the role human nature plays in financial outcomes. This model is used in performance management systems in more than 500 companies worldwide. His most recent innovation, the Gallup World Poll, is designed to give the world’s 7 billion citizens a voice on virtually all key global issues. Under his leadership, Gallup has expanded from a predominantly U.S.-based company to a worldwide organization with 40 offices in 30 countries and regions.

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