Workers want to be treated like ‘pop stars’ over their desire to work from home and have shorter working weeks, a chief executive has claimed.
Christian Ulbrich, CEO of property giant JLL, also claimed working from home was “poisoning workplace relations” because it made conflict resolution more difficult.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Ulbrich said: “What’s happening is the labour market is so competitive that employees are being treated like pop stars so they feel like they can do whatever they want.”
He added: “The idea of flexibility is not to offer people a four-day weekend and three-day work week, it’s to tie that flexibility to your private life.”
And the growing popularity of homeworking, he claimed, was hindering productivity and meant that fewer people feel under pressure to get back to their desks, at a time when many large firms such as Apple, Google and JP Morgan have called on employees to abandon their home offices.
Ulbrich said “...it is much more productive when you need others” to do your job, adding: “You get a better outcome if you are in a room together.”
Ulbrich’s sentiments echo those of Apple CEO Tim Cook who, when recently announcing the firm’s back-to-office plans, described in-person working as “irreplaceable.”
Do staff really want ‘pop star treatment’?
Ulbrich is not the first boss to characterise employees who want greater flexibility as entitled. In September 2021, a recruiter branded WFH employees “lazy” people who would rather ‘watch Loose Women’ in their pyjamas than commute to work.
As reported by Metro, recruitment boss James Cox received a backlash to a LinkedIn post, in which he said he was “sick and tired” of hearing job candidates expressing a desire to work from home.
Cox wrote: “You want to work from home! So you don’t have to get dressed at 6am? So you can save money on travel? So that you can watch Loose Women on your lunch break?”
He went on: “As a nation it seems we have become spoilt and entitled and to be honest it screams laziness to me! You want to doss on the sofa with your laptop in your dressing gown/PJs!”
Where Ulbrich is wrong
Is office working really better than remote?
The argument that collaboration and progression thrives through face-to-face work is a logical one, but recent data has highlighted just how integral home working has become to workers’ lives. As such, HR leaders considering scrapping (or scaling back) their remote working plans have a lot to consider.
A study recently found that flexibility is the key to retaining top talent in 2022 and beyond. Owl Labs, a global collaborative technology company, polled 2,000 full-time employees across the UK. They found that 37% of Brits said that they are more productive working remotely, whilst a further 43% haven’t experienced a change in their level of productivity when working remotely.
The shift to flexible work takes thoughtful and purposeful planning, yet only 36% of employees believe that their managers received hybrid or remote management training. A further 16% believe they should receive more training in the future. Unsurprisingly, 30% of British office workers find building relationships with remote colleagues harder. As a result, 59% of managers (and 62% of executives) are more likely to ask the opinion or engage with those they physically work with over those that are remote.
Another issue causing reluctance to return to the office is the current cost-of-living crisis. With soaring energy bills and rapid inflation, many workers are effectively feeling a pay cut, and the cost of a commute is one many simply cannot sustain.
The four-day week has proven benefits
Many have mischaracterised the growing calls for a shorter working week as a ‘nice-to-have' or even the preserve of trendy start-ups, whose offices are strewn with bean bags and slides between floors. But the evidence is mounting that there is a fantastic ROI for companies that roll out a four-day work week.
Between 2015 and 2019, a four-day working week concept was tested out in Iceland, where more than one per cent of the working population, or 2,500 people, took part by cutting working hours to 35-36 hours with no reduction in pay. Key findings from the think tank Autonomy in the UK and the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) in Iceland, found that some of the outcomes included a significant increase in worker wellbeing, reduced perceived stress and lower levels of burnout.
And there are currently around 3,000 UK firms taking part in a six-month pilot, in what is widely thought to be the largest scheme of its kind in the world.
Where Ulbrich might have a point
Regardless of whatever sentiment lies behind Ulbrich’s comments, there are some legitimate issues around productivity that HR should consider about staff who have spent more than two years working from home.
Research from 2021 suggested that Brits may in fact be seeing the negative effects of homeworking, with the rise of what the research has referred to as ‘home comfort syndrome’.
The study which was conducted by Poly polled over 4,000 hybrid workers from the UK, France and Germany, found that behaviours have dramatically changed as a result of shifts in working life, as reported by City AM.
For example, all respondents noted that the additional gains in time whilst working from home have been a positive. But almost one-fifth of respondents admitted that, whilst they have saved time on commutes, they get out of bed with just five minutes or less to spare before starting work.
A further 68% wake up with just 30 minutes before their working hours start.
And whilst some may assume that these habits affect younger workers most, 31% of those who admitted to waking up five minutes before starting work were over the age of 55-years-old.
It’s easy to see why some bosses think shorter working weeks and more ‘work perks’ are the result of entitlement. It’s also just as easy to disagree, when presented with strong evidence to the contrary.
The five-day working week was cemented centuries ago, but at a time when many workers had partners at home to handle cooking, cleaning, and childcare. The world has changed a lot since then, and even if one doesn’t have children to fill up their hours, our understanding of wellbeing, especially mental health, and productivity has grown in leaps and bounds since the days of physically clocking in and out.
More flexibility opens up the jobs market to a much more diverse cross-section of employees, who can feel freer to be their authentic selves at work.