As you probably know by now, I’m a supporter of working from home. I believe that when it’s possible, it can provide an increased quality of life for the employee – and a cost savings for the employer. But, it’s starting to become more common for employers to require workers to come back anyway. And, the reasoning is surprising.
I recently learned that some employers are claiming that those who prefer work from home are hiding something. In particular, they are hiding mental health and addiction issues. In other words, the only reason you might want to work from home is if you have a problem you don’t want your boss to know about.
This news is disheartening at best. Through the pandemic, it has been proven that many office workers can work effectively at home. On top of being more efficient at work, many employees have seen their stress levels drop and their personal time increase.
There are many logical reasons leaders may want their people to be back in the physical office. For example, not every job can be performed in a work from home setting. And, if you’re leading an organization where only a portion of the jobs can be remote, you may want everyone to come back together. It may increase the feeling of community and equity across various parts of the organization.
There are also some workers who genuinely prefer working from the office. They appreciate the structure that it creates. They like the separation of home and work that going to the office provides. They enjoy the casual moments of community with coworkers.
There are many legitimate reasons an employer may prefer for their employees to come back in person to a centralized office location. But, to shift blame to employees is wrong. The vast majority of those who enjoy working from home enjoy it for reasons that are no secret. It’s not because there is something wrong with them. It’s not because they’re using substances during the workday, or are shielding the employer from their mental health struggles.
Don’t get me wrong. Many employees did in fact experience mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Truly, what did anyone expect from a pandemic? It’s a pandemic. It’s possible that working from home may have helped bridge the gap for some people during a tough patch. But, the idea that all work from home supporters are hiding something is just not true.
If you need your employees to go back to a physical office, be honest. Explain the real reasons that the company believes it makes sense. Then, listen to your employees. Hear their concerns. Work together to come up with a solution that works for both sides of the equation.
Don’t turn on your employees. Don’t pressure them to come back out of fear or shame. As a leader, your role is to inspire others to want to follow your vision.