Recession and the Return-to-Office Flux: What They Mean for the Workforce - Shegerian Law

When COVID-19 first struck, no one ever imagined the disease would become as terrifying as it did. People from all walks of life suffered from the virus, resulting in 600 million recorded cases and over 6 million deaths in the past two years. As the illness continued to develop and spread, companies across all industries were not spared from its wake.

Health concerns aside, the health crisis paved the way for a global recession. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many businesses have seen a significant decline in operations and economic activity. Company closures spread like wildfire from lockdowns and other notable restrictions imposed by the government.

Now that the pandemic is subsiding, it’s great to see that many companies are recovering and returning to the office. With the virus still at large and the recession in flux, there are key concerns employers should know.

What Happens During a Recession?

A recession is a period of significant and persistent economic decline. It is officially signaled when the economy has gone through two consecutive quarters of declining GDP growth.

Although recessions can be as quick as a few months, recovery can take years. Many repercussions happen during recessions, such as reduced consumer spending, increased unemployment rates, and more.

Over the past several decades, the world has undergone four recessions: in 1975, 1982, 1991, and 2009. Besides these global recessions, there were smaller depressions across the globe. The fifth global one and most recent happened in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic caused so much damage that 60% of business closures in the US became permanent.

Beyond the loss of lives, millions also grieved the damage inflicted on their livelihood. Many were never able to recover, especially small enterprises. In 2020 alone, about 114 million people lost their jobs, and there was around a $3.7 trillion drop in labor income.

Return to the Office Plans: What This Means for Employers and Staff

Even if the pandemic hit businesses terribly, some were able to stay afloat during this difficult period. Thanks to work-from-home arrangements, rapid digitalization allowed several companies to resume their operations. At the height of the pandemic, remote workers grew to more than double compared to 25 years ago.

Today, about 62% of Americans enjoy a virtual work setup. Employees were able to adapt quickly as technology became everyone’s best friend. It made the transition smoother and tasks easier to do. Some workers even reported performing better and becoming more productive at home.

Alongside these advantages, it’s interesting to see that the pandemic has significantly changed the dynamic between employers and employees. Before the COVID-19 era, employers had full control over their staff and recruitment process.

However, with the entrance of work-from-home arrangements and hybrid setups, employees now have more leverage in the job market. The labor-leverage ratio compares workers who left their jobs and those who were fired. In the last two decades, the former has been leading the numbers.

Currently, employees are more empowered than ever. If they don’t have enough reason to stick with their jobs, they won’t hesitate to quit and find another company that will give them what they need.

Considering the recession, increasing hiring demand, and tighter race for talent, employers have no choice but to meet their employees halfway. Businesses cannot function efficiently without the help of high-performing individuals, so employers should find ways to support their workers and protect their jobs.

A Return to the Office After COVID-19: 5 Tips for Success

Now that almost all pandemic restrictions have been lifted, many companies are starting to resume the previous norm of onsite work. But since employees have been more demanding recently, employers can expect some resistance. Whether companies require or let their workers voluntarily return to the office, struggle among your staff will likely persist. 

Employers must adopt an employee-centric approach to ensure a smooth return to the office. To achieve this, employers and employees meet halfway to achieve the company’s goals. Below are different practices you can apply to persuade your workers to return to the office and protect jobs during a recession.

1. Provide flexible working arrangements

The pandemic showed that working from home was productively possible. It’s one of the reasons why employees would still prefer to work, even if offices are opening again. As managers, you must meet your employees halfway by allowing flexible work setups.

A practical way to start this practice is to determine which roles must be onsite. Then, figure out which are eligible for a remote work arrangement. Once you’ve categorized your company’s employees, you can group them into fully remote, hybrid, and onsite. By granting this flexibility to qualified workers, you help boost productivity and morale.

Some employees have reported working more efficiently at home because there are usually fewer distractions. They also avoid other things that take up their energy and money, such as commuting or traveling to work, dining out, and buying work attire. Through this hybrid setup, you can expect better output from your workers and less resistance during the transition to return to the office.

Conversely, when you impose this convenient work arrangement, your company is more likely to attract applicants when you have job openings in the future. Remote work gives you access to a bigger talent pool since you can hire from anywhere in the world. 

2. Revisit your policies on paid leaves and employee benefits

After the changes you may have made during the remote work arrangements in 2020, some adjustments could be needed for the office return. Make sure to check and update all employee benefits. To encourage returning to the office, consider adding perks your staff would greatly appreciate.

Always remember that it’s best to base your choice on your employees’ needs. These can include child and senior care benefits, transportation allowance, and mental health support. With millions of working parents, the workforce generally cannot afford to lose that much workforce. Even though increasing employee incentives costs money, it would still be worth the investment.

It’s important to care for your staff, not just to lessen the tension of returning to the office but prevent burnout and improve their performance. As your company cares for its people, they will give back through their productivity and output. 

3. Ask for feedback from employees

Whether you’ve already resumed operations in the office or are still in the planning stage, it’s important to know your employees’ thoughts about it. Getting their insights will help you address and prevent any concerns they may have. Practicing good, open communication with your team will foster better collaboration, and business decisions will probably be employee-centric, which is essential now. 

4. Encourage interpersonal connections

The pandemic separated people. Most felt disengaged from others, whether in a work or personal setting. Sadly, studies have shown that disconnection causes negative effects, like poor performance and weak stress management. As a manager, you can promote engagement among employees through regular activities.

There can be weekly or monthly team lunches, get-togethers, and games, which can all be done face-to-face or in a mix with some virtual attendees. Through these simple practices, you can boost interactions within the office, form genuine friendships, and have a more unified team. These will help reduce tension and resistance when returning to the office. 

5. Ensure safety and cleanliness

One of the reasons why some employees don’t want to return to the office is that they’re scared of contracting COVID-19. In the UK alone, 57.9% of workers have this fear, and it’s understandable and valid. Employers and managers can help ease this worry by enforcing stringent safety measures. A screening process will help detect employees and visitors that may be feverish or have any symptoms.

Having proper ventilation and daily office disinfection is also important in warranting protection. In addition, you should be strict about not letting sick employees come into work and provide sanitation sites around the office. Social distancing and wearing face masks are no longer mandated, but you may still consider this practice.

When your staff recognizes the company has a system to ensure their safety, they will be more willing to return to the office.

The Awaited Return to the Office

The global recession took a toll on everyone. Many businesses experienced loss from the pandemic; even today, many have not recovered. However, setting aside the unemployment, closed companies, and other shortfalls, there were still survivors. Some made their way through as they adapted to the new norms the pandemic imposed.

Now that it’s time to open office doors again, employers are met with some resistance. However, this tension comes from valid fears and concerns. There’s a long line of workers who care for children and seniors, those who fear getting sick with the virus, and others who have become comfortable working remotely.

Change is inevitable, and managers must work with their teams to ease into another transition. An employee-centric approach is your solution to creating a smooth transition. 

If you have concerns or questions about workplace policies and rights, consult with an employment lawyer from Shegerian & Associates.

Disclaimer: None of the aforementioned information should be construed as legal advice. Likewise, contacting us via our website does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please consult with a competent and qualified attorney to discuss your specific situation before taking action on your own.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.