A work-from-home tug-of-war
It may still be a hot job market, but the steam is missing its mark. Many workers being called back into the office are stubbornly resisting, as the convenience of working from home seems too tempting to give up.
The great American job mismatch is at hand.
According to Indeed’s research arm hiringlab.org, big signing bonuses are tapering, still above 2019 levels, but dropping over the past year (with notable exceptions in medical and child care). Wages are leveling off and offices are slowly beginning to fill empty seats.
Some will remain empty in favor of the living room sofa, although not as many as workers hope. A recent report from LinkedIn notes a tug-of-war going on between what job seekers and employers want:
More than 50% of job applications submitted on LinkedIn are for work-from-home positions, but only 15% of listings are for remote workers. That’s a big gap between supply and demand.
Research consortium The Future Forum surveyed more than 10,000 workers globally in 2021, finding a similar disconnect. They found three-quarters of executives want to work at the office three to five days a week, compared with only one-third of employees. Among executives who’ve been working remotely since the pandemic, 44% said they wanted to come back to the office every day. Just 17% of employees said the same.
It’s the great remote work mismatch,” wrote Rand Ghayad, head of economics and global labor markets at LinkedIn, in the recent report.
“In the past, labor mismatches have been about skills. Now we’re seeing a different kind of mismatch, where workers are looking for jobs that offer certain attributes — like the ability to work remotely — that employers aren’t willing to offer.”
As reported by the Washington Post there are at least two open LinkedIn positions listed per applicant for on-site work, a great advantage for willing office workers. But the opposite is true for work-from-home positions, with double or more the number of active applications for each WFH job.
Other jobs sites reveal similar trends. Monster.com reported a 21% spike in job seekers looking for WFH positions between September and October, even as listings for such jobs declined 6 percent.
Meanwhile, office occupancy is rising. According to data reported by CNBC and tracked through November 2022 by security company Kastle Systems, operating in 138 major cities, office buildings in the nation’s top metropolitan areas are back up to half the capacity they were in 2020. Empty spaces don’t necessarily mean company decline, as many of those workers have been operating remotely.
Why more workers prefer remote work after trying it is fairly obvious. The flexibility, convenience, and comfort of working anywhere with internet access feels very different from punching a clock. Yes, they miss out on the camaraderie and group vibe of an office environment, but for most it’s worth skipping the drive, seeing the kids before bed, and working in pajamas.
Some employers are trying hybrid arrangements, such as in-office work one or two days a week, to find a middle ground.
Why do so many employers want them back at the office? The first guess is accountability and control. It’s easier to control what you can see, to ensure a job is done and time isn’t wasted. However, if measured reliably non-performance is generally remedied the same way regardless of location, with termination.
Studies and anecdotal evidence from CEOs suggest they have a psychological perspective that’s distinctly different from their employees. In 2022 memos reported by sources including The Verge and CNBC, Apple Executive Tim Cook and NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell expressed “excitement” and enthusiasm typical of managers and executives about seeing employees’ faces back in the office again.
Employees may not be feeling the same thrill.
Analysts note most executives are experiencing a different kind of life than employees. Generally with better desk setups and work environments, more office perks, and higher salaries most also have greater resources to cover worries such as child care, gas prices for the commute, and other needs for which the average worker requires more work flexibility.
Some are saying this perceptive difference is due to an antiquated view of work, especially when making inferences about what’s important for a company to flourish.
On the flip side, executives and managers point out the benefits such as whiteboarding and workshopping in person, as well as passing along institutional knowledge and experience. The latter may be the stronger point, although one school of thought is that the former may actually suppress creative thinking more than encourage it, at least for quieter personalities hesitant to speak out in front of a group.
If that’s true, it depends on the personalities and work ethic of each team, and the nature of the work.
LinkedIn’s Ghayad says part of the disconnect may be due to a generation gap. Executives tend to be older, and workers on average are relatively younger. Older generations are not used to working remotely, a concept unheard of until relatively recently so it may seem less “right.” Where an older person or one more used to office environments may thrive on the energy of the group, the younger worker may simply feel distracted and micromanaged.
Certain types of office environments are more WFH-friendly than others. Some need in-person teamwork to get the job done, but this protracted social experiment since 2020 may have proven those are fewer in number than we once thought, especially with modern technology.
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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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