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Bosses conflicted on back-to-office orders as talent flees home

19 Oct 2022 / employment Print

Bosses conflicted on back-to-office as talent flees home

Employment and labour law practice Littler’s latest survey shows that employers feel pulled in different directions as their desire to increase in-person work may conflict with the flexibility needed to attract and retain talent.

The fifth annual European Employer Survey Report was completed by nearly 700 human resources executives, in-house lawyers and business leaders in Europe.

Novel issues

The evolving world of work creates a host of novel issues for European employers.

Just 30% of respondents said employees are working fully in person while 27% said employees are on hybrid schedules, with more days in person than remote. 

That’s compared with only 11% who said employees are on hybrid schedules working more days remotely than in person, and just 5% who said their employees are working fully remotely. 

But 73% of employers are considering reducing remote work options although employees are reluctant to relinquish flexibility.  

In Littler’s 2021 European Employer Survey, just 28% of respondents said their work models match employee preferences, compared to 40% this year.

And 42% still believe that their employees prefer hybrid or remote work to a greater extent than they offer it.

“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, Littler shareholder 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.”

Culture and teamwork

A full 79% of employers want to increase the remote offering to attract and retain talent.

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.

The main drawback employers see with managing hybrid or remote work arrangements include 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, Littler’s coordinating partner international. 

“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.”

A focus on supporting employee mental health and well-being remains important. While nine in ten respondents have placed more focus on such initiatives over the past year, only 28% have done so to a large extent.

In addition, when it comes to combatting burnout, offering more flexible work schedules was the only step taken by more than half of respondents (54%), and other 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, 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.” 

'Wandering workers'

“Wandering workers” – employees who work in a different country from where their employer is located – continue to complicate remote work policies for employers.  

Among those who have employees working with this arrangement, the vast majority (89%) are concerned with the legal risks, tax implications and other employment issues that come along with it. 

A full 73% of respondents to this year’s survey said they have wandering workers, compared to 61% in 2021.

“Employers are rightly concerned about the myriad of risks that come with wandering workers, and these risks are particularly heightened for UK-based companies following Brexit,” said Raoul Parekh, Littler partner in Britain. 

 “Unfortunately, employee expectations in this area are not aligned with the realities of the global legal system, as it is genuinely challenging for employers to make ‘work from anywhere’ a reality.”

AI tools

Nearly half of respondents (47%) are either currently using, or planning to use, technology solutions and/or artificial intelligence (AI) tools to support recruiting and hiring efforts.

And 61% of those who are already using such tools said they increased their use in the past year.

“As usage of these tools ramps up, it’s important for legal departments to raise awareness of the compliance steps that must be taken and ensure applications are developed under legal review," said Laura Jousselin, Littler partner in France.

Fewer than a third of those using such tools have conducted an assessment to ensure data privacy compliance (31%) or coordinated with vendors to conduct reviews of AI algorithms and identify potential biases (28%).

37% consider reduced headcount 

Roughly a quarter (27%) of employers said that macroeconomic concerns have made them hesitant to hire new employees, while 37% are now either considering or implementing workforce reductions.

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