Study: Return-to-Office Mandates Are Scaring Away Talent

Companies that want all employees back in their offices are leaking high performers, the data shows.

We’re now well over a year into a CEO-driven push for return-to-office mandates, and the data is in: Companies that get rid of remote work are making the wrong move and losing talented workers as a result.

High-performing employees say they have a 16% lower intent to remain in their position when faced with on-site requirements, a new study from Gartner finds. And a whopping 74% of HR leaders cite these requirements as a source of workplace conflict.

What solution does the new data point to? A flexible approach “yields the best results,” Gartner concludes, with any in-person work largely justified, either for team brainstorming sessions or for company-wide offsites.

The Key Stats on Return-to-Office Mandate Failures

Drawing on 2024 data from its own research and its affiliates’ research, tech research and consulting firm Gartner has determined that sweeping, across-the-board return-to-office mandates are simply not worth it.

Companies should instead opt for hybrid solutions that offer the wiggle room that employees need to do their best. If they don’t, the companies will lose high-performing employees at a faster clip than their more flexible competition.

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Poor work-life balance is a top-five reason employees quit

Among employees who chose to leave their previous position, “issues with work-life balance” is among the top five reasons cited, Gartner finds. It gets worse for organizations that have issued a return-to-office mandate: On average, their employees have a 16% lower intent to remain at their jobs.

74% of HR leaders say RTO mandates are a “source of conflict”

A big 63% of HR leaders say that their company has increased expectations for in-office work from employees across the past 12 months. If these efforts aren’t getting results, those expectations often turn into demands.

However, nearly three quarters of these leaders (74%) say that these same return-to-office mandates are a source of conflict in the workplace. That’s a lot of friction — with few benefits to justify it.

Biggest flight risks: High-performers, women, and millennials

Gartner isolated three demographics that are less likely to be willing or able to comply with in-office mandates: High-performers, women, and millennials.

So, pushing your employees back into the office will lead to a reduction in gender and age diversity, as well as lowered overall performance. That’s a lot of downsides to the move.

Three Big Takeaways

Here’s the quick summary that Gartner suggests to everyone looking for a path forward within their own company when it comes to weighing a return to the physical office against a fully remote workplace:

  1. The benefits of in-office work aren’t worth the risks of a rigid mandate.

  2. Give employees an opportunity to shape, adapt or customize policies and you’ll likely see improved employee engagement and effort.

  3. Don’t derail your long-term talent strategy with the wrong RTO approach.

In the end, the takeaways only make sense: You won’t want to take a one-size-fits-all approach, and you should listen to your employees needs instead.

Ultimately, there’s very little data that justifies a sweeping return-to-office mandate, and there are several strong downsides that will erase any benefits. Give your employees more remote-work leeway, and you’ll build a stronger company.

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Written by:
Adam is a writer at and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He was a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and his art history book on 1970s sci-fi, 'Worlds Beyond Time,' is out from Abrams Books in July 2023. In the meantime, he's hunting down the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.
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