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The Office Genie and Burnout

As increasing numbers of workers are switching to hybrid models that do not require coming in to work every single day, there has not yet been an equivalent drop in demand for office space. As noted by the Harvard Business Review, new survey data reveals that cuts in office space demand have averaged only 1-2%, which is much less than the proportion of employees who are working partly or mostly at home. HBR points to three main causes for this trend. First, the workers that have remained at offices are uncomfortable if they are forced to work in dense spaces. It goes against the social and health norms of the last two years, which advise keeping one’s distance, especially in enclosed spaces. This need for spacing does not allow building managers to cut square metreage. Second, since most employees are working from home one or two days a week (most often Monday and Friday), companies are not left with a lot of wiggle room. The difference between an employee coming in for 5 days a week and 3-4 days a week is massive from the employee’s perspective, but an employer logistics perspective, this “free” space cannot be reallocated easily. Finally, employers are trying to lure employees back to the office by making physical spaces far more appealing than they once were. This in-person push is meant to encourage face-to-face collaboration, improve creativity, and foster a better company culture.

The “save on office space” discussion was common in early 2020 when companies were figuring out how to manage a “work from home” situation. In retrospect, this attempt at finding a silver lining to the dark clouds of COVID seems naïve. Few companies are under the impression that they will see reduced overhead, especially because they are now double-dipping by having to pay for home office setups. Plus, the conversation about office settings has shifted considerably. Many have realised that no matter how idyllic an office setting becomes, it will always be an office. People who have personal lives, who have dogs, who have loved ones with whom they maximise time: these types will try to maximise their time away from the office. Conversely, those people with personality types that crave social interaction, or people who have home lives that they are trying to avoid, will find any excuse to spend more time at the office. That’s not to say that money spent on improving office environments won’t be a factor in the years to come, just that it won’t be as big of a factor as many expect. The genie of working from home emerged from its bottle, and there’s no way it’s going back in.

It’s Not Just Burnout

When asked why so many employees are leaving their jobs in record numbers, a lot of people have pointed to burnout as one of the main culprits. In late November 2021, a company called Cengage questioned people about the main reasons why they were leaving their jobs. Here are the top five most common responses from workers who had recently resigned:

  • 91 per cent: I wanted to make more money
  • 89 per cent: I felt burnt out and unsupported
  • 83 per cent: I no longer felt like I was growing in my position
  • 82 per cent: The pandemic made me reconsider my priorities and/or professional goals
  • 81 per cent: I have other passions or a different career path I want to pursue

Try as we might to pretend that money is not the single most important factor, it is. At the end of the day, issues like burnout, growth potential, priorities, and career paths all take a backseat to compensation. In a market where employees believe that they can find elevated wages elsewhere, companies that are not paying competitively are not going to be competitive. No matter how good the company culture is, or how much a company “supports” personal growth, companies that underpay will reap what they sow.