With all the negative press that the Return to Office (RTO) craze is getting, white-collar professionals are reluctantly gassing up their cars, picking up their dry cleaning, and returning to the daily grind of going to work.
Even the rebranded hybrid model is losing its shiny label of “compassionate compromise” to expose itself for what it is: the first step in getting butts in seats five days a week. Sneaky, yet effective, opportunity for a win-win.
However, working professionals are pushing back. Quiet quitting, sudden and unexpected resignations, and employee satisfaction degradation is, or eventually will, have a negative impact on the corporate mission and the economy.
Stay with me on this. hybrid work, marketed as a blended on-site/at home solution, is largely a temporary solution to a longer-term, more serious problem. How’s that? One of the problems with hybrid work is the loss, nay subtraction, of permanence. Employers are implementing hoteling systems, equipped with handy-dandy desk reservation apps, to reinforce the temporary mentality corporate American workers already have. This causes employees to worry and panic; is my job going to be eliminated?
People leaders now must reach a certain level (salary band and/or title) in the executive food chain, to get a private, with-door office. Many leaders, including VPs, are being booted from their workplace sanctuaries and returned to “the floor” so they can better manage and interact with employees. Queue the manufacturing assembly line, please. What do employees think about this?
“Great, now we’re being micromanaged.”
High wall cubes are being torn down and replaced with collaborative, general population work desks, lined in rows or clustered together for, well, wait for it—better communication and cooperation. But the reality is that this sh*t doesn’t work. Period.
Workers in the office are still zooming all day (because well, business is global now, right?) and many people are sitting in meetings, at their desks, and on zoom calls with the same people they sit directly beside. Yes, this is the new corporate (hybrid) model. Working at home one day (or if you are lucky, two days) per week is truly a privilege where professionals can regroup and recoup from all the “togetherness” time in the office. In a recent online article by CNBC’s Make IT column, nearly 60% of workers experienced some degree of burnout in 2022. Raise your hand if you’re one of them.
Spending time in an office, with people who struggle to work on their own, have a need for constant interaction, and relentless back-to-back zoomies, has led to people becoming “just done.” What do you do if you have to be onsite, even if it’s for just a few days a week? Some tips to consider:
Change up Your Workspace Every Day
You may have to be there, but if you have the freedom to sit wherever you want, consider picking up your mobile workspace and sitting elsewhere.
I recently met with our local site leader to discuss work solution options due to the number of calls and heightened volume in my department’s assigned workspace. As it turns out, we’re not restricted to our designated area and can sit anywhere we want. Win-win. I now drop the bulk of my things at my desk, spend the first couple of hours in the group setting, and then go mobile: café, coffee shop, another floor, or a secluded meeting room near my fellow on-boarding bestie. I work to get away from the herd so I can focus on projects that need laser-focused attention.
Arrive and/or Leave Early
Much of the stress of being in the office is just getting there. Traffic, construction, school zones, and impolite commuters can give you the jitters before your first badge swipe. By adjusting your commute times, even by 30 minutes, you can reduce some of that travel stress and give yourself much needed personal time at the end of the day. Set expectations with your coworkers: you’re not coming in early to tack on time for the company; your change-up is to support you and your lifestyle.
Detach and Become Independent
Notice I didn’t say quit your job. Instead, I want you to consider changing your mindset. Last week I had coffee with a colleague who recently crossed his three-year anniversary with the firm and finds himself frustrated with politics, the lack of upward mobility, and the stagnation of his role. He loves the organization’s mission and the work he does but cannot get past some of the environmental factors he doesn’t like. (Believe it or not, he loves being in the office…I can’t relate, but to each his/her/their own.) However, he cannot bring himself to leave the job; it’s an obsession to “hope beyond hope” for change. I could relate. Years ago, I obsessively over-gave energy to my employer only to be reminded I owed them for the pleasure of being employed. Over the past four years, I’ve worked to pivot my mentality; I am the grown-ass woman of my destiny. Thank you, drive-thru.
Your employer is like the owner of a sports team leveraging the youth and agility or sage experience of his (or her) players until it’s time to release and replace them. You, as an elite player, have a responsibility to yourself to think like a free agent and pick your own damn team. (Hopefully one with far cooler uniforms and sweeter perks.) Every employment opportunity is a chance to grow, learn, and add to your bag of experience. When—and there is always a when—the time comes to move on, embrace it. Don’t let it linger too long or else you risk losing your sense of independence and freedom. Approach your current gig as a consulting opportunity, one that will eventually end when you and your employer have fully exchanged the benefits of your contract. As you do this, draft a requirements list for your next employer and make sure that 90% of that list aligns with what your prospective employer is offering (including the elusive work-life balance that your current one may be lacking).
Leverage your time wisely and use the resources available to you to grow your knowledge and level up your skillset value to find a role that gives you time, space, and freedom of your design. Fun fact: the more specialized and rarer a skill, the more negotiation power you hold.
It’s time. Time to change the dynamic and time to pivot. Getting back to a home-based employee starts at the office: flip the script by establishing boundaries and reset the tone of the connection. You and you alone are responsible for your professional health and when you start to feel unhealthy, disconnect emotionally and psychologically until you can be physically replanted in better soil.