Companies across Europe are struggling to reconcile the desire to attract people into in-person work while offering the flexibility to attract talented applicants.
When asked about current requirements for employee work schedules, 30% of respondents to the fifth European Employer Survey by international employment law specialist Littler, said employees were working fully in-person and 27% said employees were on hybrid working schedules, with more days in person than remote.
The respondents comprised 700 HR executives, business lawyers and business leaders drawn from across Europe.
It’s clear that those who got a taste of remote work are reluctant to give it up” – Stephan Swinkels, Littler
Only 11% said employees were working more days remotely than in-person on hybrid schedules, and just 5% said their employees are working fully remotely.
The trend toward more in-person work may deepen in the coming months, as 73% of employers who are not already requiring fully in-person work said they were considering reducing remote work options. Those who tried to impose such a policy were likely to face opposition from workers reluctant to relinquish flexibility, found the survey.
While this year’s Littler survey saw greater alignment between employer policies and employee preferences 42% of leaders still said that their employees preferred hybrid or remote work to a greater extent than they offered it. In 2021, just 28% of respondents said their work models matched employee preferences, compared with 40% this year.
“It’s encouraging that employers and employees are more aligned on work preferences than they were at this time last year,” said Jan-Ove Becker, a Littler partner in Germany.
“However, the fact that companies are still struggling to balance the pros and cons of remote, hybrid and in-person work models – even two and a half years into this new world of work – is telling of the complex and delicate challenges that come with managing a workforce today.”
Employers’ key reasons for requiring more in-person work centre around culture and teamwork – including facilitating collaboration and creative thinking (54%) and improving employee engagement (48%) – rather than on productivity and hard costs.
Those perceived benefits of in-person work correlate with the main drawback employers see with managing hybrid or remote work arrangements: maintaining company culture and employee engagement (53%).
“It’s clear that those who got a taste of remote work are reluctant to give it up,” said Stephan Swinkels, coordinating partner international at Littler. “This means employers must factor flexibility into their recruitment and retention strategies, and that if they’re going to push for more in-person work, they must do so with intention. For companies that want to facilitate greater collaboration, we can’t assume that just because people are in the office that will be the case – employers need to create those opportunities.”
No matter the work model, a focus on supporting employee mental health and wellbeing remains important. While nine in 10 respondents have placed more focus on such initiatives over the past year, only 28% have done so to a large extent, found the report. In addition, when it came to combating burnout, offering more flexible work schedules was the only step taken by more than half of respondents (54%), and more actionable steps – such as working individually with employees to manage workloads – were selected by less than a third of respondents.
“Addressing workplace mental health and burnout in sustainable ways continues to be a challenge for employers,” said Anne-Valérie Michaux, a Littler shareholder in Belgium. “Flexible work schedules, for example, are a step in the right direction, but they often don’t account for the added stress and workloads that can accompany remote work.”