Employers Forcing Workers Back to the Office is Backfiring

As employers continue to push for their employees to return to the office or risk termination, the results are mixed and many companies report their efforts have backfired.  As more employees realize the joys of work/life balance, they are not as eager to return to an office environment.

As the corporate pressure mounts, and the employee pushback grows, employees are dropping like flies. However, the ones who choose to stay at their jobs are looking into unionization and fueling the rise of labor union careers.

Here are some interesting facts about how employee pushback on employers is causing labor unionization:

What is Labor Unionization?

A labor union is an organization that is created by workers to improve pay, working conditions, and employer benefits. The organization fights for the rights of the workers. A person is selected to represent the union to speak on behalf of the employees to the employer—known as “collective bargaining”.

The first labor union was created in 1794 with the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions following in 1881. The American Federation of Labor—or AFL—was created five years afterward.

Why is Forcing Employees Back In-office Creating Labor Unionization?

After the Covid-19 virus swept across the world in 2019, many things in the working world shifted. People started to place a higher value on their work/life balance that developed from being able to work from home during the pandemic.

Studies have shown that many employees prefer working from home. Also, studies have proven that working remotely actually increases motivation, productivity, and overall employee happiness. Now that the pandemic is mostly behind us, employers are demanding—if not forcing—their employees to come back to the office.

But there is one major problem.  Employees don’t want to go back. This growing rift between employers and their employees is a leading factor of labor unionization.  This is especially true among white collar office workers who have traditionally never identified as potential union members.   It occurs when employees feel they are being treated unfairly within the workplace, or management is being un reasonable in its demands on workers.  It should come as no surprise that new labor unions are being formed in the best interests of the employees.

Employees are using the basis of the authoritarian model of “in-office assembly line working” as being more reflective of the early 20th century. However, nowadays, that model is no longer effective, efficient, or accepted. Workers are fighting back stating that this style is not well-suited for the 21st Century economy.

An Important Case

One of the most important cases of workers going against their employers occurred in Texas. YouTube contractors went on strike to protest the new mandate of workers reporting back to the office. Since the YouTube contractors are technically not employees, they decided to fight back.

Since the contractors were hired as remote workers, they felt it unjust to be forced to abide by this new rule that was not originally a condition of their hiring. They used the foundation of their hourly wage not being enough to cover the costs of relocating to the office’s location. Invigorated by this case, many employees from other companies have gone on strike to fight similar mandates by companies that are forcing them back to the office.

Worker Power

Tensions continue to rise between employers and employees as more workers resist or refuse to return to the office . As a result, many employers are struggling to meet customers’ demands because they cannot stay open without the necessary workforce required to keep their business running. This situation has given the workers added power and leverage as well as the ability to negotiate the terms they feel are best for them.

Employers are now facing a growing backlash and risk losing their essential staff in these changing times. As companies try and reassert control over their remote staff—who now have experienced the freedom and stressless joys of working remotely—the efforts are spawning a new generation of labor unionization. Workers are joining new unions to protect their interests and rights. This has created a serious conundrum for employers because it requires a major culture shift on the part of management, who must learn how to manage a remote workforce and find new ways to develop team spirit and unity among their remote workers.

Tom Hinton and Barbara Yager, co-authors of The Heart and Soul of Culture, noted that this issue – dealing with a remote workforce—is causing added stress for management because most managers are ill-prepared to manage their employees when they don’t see them every day in an office environment.  So, companies need to retrain their managers and supervisors in the art of managing remote workers.

Additionally, Hinton and Yager noted that dealing with a remote workforce represents a major Culture Shift for most companies because it requires new rules and policies, greater levels of trust between employees and management, and it also requires new ways for management to hold employees accountable without creating a threatening environment or air of distrust.

Bottom Line

Employers need to quickly recognize that they may no longer be in the driver’s seat when it comes to where their employees work. As workers gain more control and threaten to form a labor union to protect their interests, management must now rethink its mandates to force workers back into the office. Giving workers more flexibility and options has proven to be a successful policy for many companies, and this approach has also thwarted efforts by some unhappy employees to form a labor union.  But, this post-Covid situation shows just how much power employees have gained after being forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Now, trying to get employees back to the office is like trying to put the toothpaste back inside the tube.

Ironically, recent studies have shown that most employees prefer the work/life balance of working from home as it offers a happier lifestyle. Also, productivity levels among remote workers has increased significantly during the past three years.  As companies confront this new reality, management must tread carefully so they don’t lose their best talent or force employees to take the drastic step of forming a labor union.  According to Hinton and Yager, “It’s a good time to sit down with your employees and ask them to help you design a workplace model or plan that meets everyone’s goals.”

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