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Return to office: new normal or back to ‘old way’ of business leadership?

LONDON, 15 JULY 2021 – Increased flexibility and saving money on commuting costs, two common ways that employees have adapted whilst working from home during the pandemic. Whereas, three-quarters (74%) of business leaders have developed an essential soft leadership attribute: compassion towards their employee’s needs, according to new research from global recruitment specialists, Michael Page.

Over seven in ten business leaders (74%) go further to admit that they are more considerate of their employees’ needs now than they were pre lockdown, even prioritising health and wellbeing of colleagues (45%) over financial profitability.

Released ahead of the 19 July’s long-awaited return to the office, Michael Page’s survey of 1,000 UK business leaders reveals that business leaders understand a softer touch is needed to incentivise employees back to the office, rather than apply force. As such, half of leaders will now allow employees to leave work early for personal needs, such as childcare commitments, whilst two in five (42%) will be subsidising the cost of commuting. A similar 46% aim to offer training to employees to ease a transition back to an office environment. This compares to just 6% of businesses who will offer no assistance for employees returning to the office.

Michael Page commissioned the study amid conversations with candidates who hope to retain elements of their new working patterns and not return to the ‘old way’ of office working. The study aims to shine a light on the views of business leadership ahead of the transition and prepare workers to ask the right questions of their leaders. The study found that:

Nearly three quarters (74%) of business leaders are more considerate of their employees’ needs now than pre-lockdown, even prioritising health and wellbeing (45%) over financial profitability (41%)

Almost two in five business leaders (76%) claim to have become better at encouraging employees to look after their own health and wellbeing

Nearly three quarters of business leaders (74%) support a split between remote and office-based working as a permanent move, saying that hybrid working could offer employees the “perfect balance”

Despite economic uncertainty, leaders set their plans into motion long before the Prime Minister’s COVID unlocking announcement. Two thirds of business leaders were considerate of employee’s need to prepare for the future, and therefore communicated reopening plans long before the announcement. These were:

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Nearly a quarter (24%) plan to adopt a hybrid working model

Over a fifth (21%) will require employees to return to the office full time

19% will offer employees the flexibility to work from an office without an obligation to do so

Only 15% support a policy of working from anywhere

Nick Kirk, Regional Managing Director UK & North America at Michael Page: “We are so used to thinking of leaders as powerful, untouchable and occasionally intimidating – but it’s encouraging to find that’s not the case at all. It’s inspiring to see that other leaders also find it important to prioritise their employees’ wellbeing, with many offering things such as mental health and wellness time off, as we do at Page.

“As we unlock from the restrictions of the pandemic, business leaders face a new unique challenge of determining their new style of leadership. Does the compassionate leadership of the pandemic have a place in the future of their business, or was it a moment in time for extraordinary circumstances?

“It is promising that so many leaders are recognising that employees will need support in returning to the office setting. It has been 16 months since the initial lockdown and many workers have fallen out of the routine of office work, through no fault of their own. We welcome signs of training, workplace adjustments and financial support to aid this process towards a new-normal working arrangement.


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