Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon
It’s no more Mr. Nice CEO.Bosses who allowed fully remote work during the pandemic want workers back in the office, pronto.Experts say RTO orders come from elite, often male CEOs who prioritize work over work-life balance.
It was nice while it lasted. Bosses increasingly want workers to get back into the office. Or else.
Blue-chip companies including Goldman Sachs, Meta, and Zoom are pushing, with varying degrees of severity, for employees to be physically present at work, ending years of workers being able to work from wherever they liked.
Goldman has told workers they need to be in the office five days a week, no ifs, no buts. In tech land, failure to comply with Mark Zuckerberg’s three-day a week policy at Meta now comes with the threat of getting fired. It’s likely that more will follow.
“Because the labor market is looser and there’s more talent to be hired, I think the employers think they’ll be able to get their way,” Dr Grace Lordan, associate professor in behavioral science at the London School of Economics told Insider. Firms feel confident in taking a “like it or lump it and we hire somebody else” approach, she said.
A certain kind of CEO — noticeably skewing male and older, she said — is drawing from this “command and control” playbook as a way to rebuild an employee base that fits their idea of being productive and diligent.
“This belief of a certain cohort of people, and they are represented across all sectors, that presentee-ism is productivity, for them it’s perfectly rational that if somebody doesn’t want to come into the office then that basically means they’re not somebody who wants to add value to the firm,” Lordan added.
Elon Musk is consistently adamant about workers at his companies from X to Tesla being present in office, going as far as calling remote work “morally wrong.”
“For most employees, life is partly work, but partly things outside work,” Stanford economist Nick Bloom said. “These elite CEOs probably work 100-plus hours a week and they’re much more work-focused.” The mandates symbolize the sharp disconnect right now between the way CEOs and employees think about work.
It’s all part of a broader reversal in power. A number of firms that benefited from a pandemic bump in business, particularly in tech, went on a hiring spree — triggering the “Great Resignation” as workers quit for ever-higher salaries and perks. With flexible working on top, white-collar workers briefly enjoyed an unprecedented amount of autonomy in terms of deciding how and where they worked.
For CEOs now, it’s “them versus us,” added Bloom — a sharp contrast from the pandemic-era push towards kind and empathetic leadership.
That attitude means certain types of employees will lose out — and return-to-office mandates will likely hurt diversity too if they are strictly enforced.
Women with young kids have “very strong preferences” against going into the office five days a week, said Bloom, while those who relocated away from expensive areas during the pandemic may find relocating back again too daunting and costly.
“What happens is you get higher quit rates — but it’s not evenly distributed,” said Bloom.