Networking or the naughty step | Are in-office mandates taking employees back to their school days?

Are in-office mandates taking employees back to their school days?

Back to office mandates over the past year have been nothing short of controversial, in part because many workers have outwardly opposed returning to the office full-time.

Primarily however, these mandates have been controversial because of the - at times - Orwellian surveillance employers have imposed upon their staff in a bid to end flexible work models.

Some businesses have aimed to entice their staff with in-office perks and, in some cases, financial incentives. Whereas other companies have outright pushed their employees back to their desk – Amazon threatened to sack any workers who wouldn’t move closer to their office, even those who were employed over the pandemic.

Heightened surveillance has been a way employers have aimed to tighten their control over their workforce and encourage staff back to the office. A striking 96% of UK bosses have said they use surveillance technology to spy on their staff.

Another tactic, adopted by one city law firm Slaughter and May, was to track when staff entered the office building and share this data with the company’s bosses and HR, with the purpose of name and shaming employees who aren’t coming in at least three times a week.

With these Draconian measures becoming a new development in the workplace – they certainly weren’t around to the same degree before the pandemic – we must ask ourselves if these measures to get workers back to the office are akin to that of negative reinforcement seen in the halls of schools.

These measures are a sign of the times. Employers feel like staff are asking for too much, giving too little, and not doing what they’re told – much like children. In response, trust has gone out the window and businesses are attempting to get employees to do what they want through punishment. In other words, workers are being told to sit on the naughty step. If the perils of this aren’t already obvious then here are some of them...

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Humans follow what feels good and shy away from what feels bad. Therefore, keeping staff in-line through fear of punishment, or redundancy, might work for a little bit. But ultimately, this attitude breeds a culture of discontent and will surely lead to talent leaving your firm, challenges with attraction, and numbers of staff jumping ship to a more reasonable company increasing.

Trust is the cornerstone of any business – and not having this for your staff can have some extremely damaging consequences for your employer brand. You only have to look at some of the biggest tech companies – who imposed strict return to office mandates and brutal mass layoffs – to recgonise that these measures, although seemingly necessary in the short-term have long standing consequences on your reputation as an employer and your company culture and morale.

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