The fight between Apple and Twitter to return to the office reveals fractures in culture

by Ana Lopez

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

The challenges many companies face in their hard, inflexible approach to returning to the office reveal deeper issues broken culturesocial contract and trust in these companies.

For example, recent reports indicate that Apple has been imminent action against employees who refuse to return to the office by tracking employee attendance and threatening action against those who do not work at least three days a week in the office.

Likewise, Twitter has had to deal with its own return to the office issues. Elon Musk apparently sent an email to employees at 2:30 a.m. writing that “office is not optional.” Musk complained that half of the San Francisco headquarters was empty the day before.

Related: 4 warning signs that your job’s corporate culture is broken and why it might be time to leave

It is clear that company leaders will not complain about a problem that does not arise: their complaints indicate serious opposition from employees and a lack of confidence. And this breakdown of trust takes place on many others companies that mandate a hard-line office return. Amazon’s head of HR rejected an internal plea endorsed by nearly 30,000 employees about the organization’s return-to-work strategy. Employees at Walt Disney Co. are resisting an order to spend four days a week in the office, while Starbucks employees have written a public letter expressing their disapproval of the company’s mandatory returns policy.

Broken culture and social contract

Based on my experience helping 22 companies transition to hybrid and remote working, such weaponized approaches not only create tension among employees, but also endanger corporate culture. These incidents point to a broken culture and social contract within the companies, with employees no longer trusting their employers to prioritize their well-being and work-life balance.

Trust is the basis of a healthy working relationship between employee and employer. When companies like Apple and Twitter take a hard-line approach to returning to the office, they risk damaging the trust employees have placed in them. This lack of confidence can lead to withdrawal, reduced job satisfaction and increased staff turnover.

Companies that mandate strict return-to-office policies show disregard for employee well-being. By not taking into account the unique needs of each employee and by not offering flexible working arrangements, these organizations indicate that they are prioritizing their own needs over those of their employees. This attitude can lead to a toxic work culture, negatively impacting employee engagement and productivity.

Related: Why employers are forcing a return to the office leads to increased worker power and unionization

The impact on companies with a tough approach

Businesses that take a hard, inflexible approach to returning to the office can suffer several adverse consequences.

In today’s competitive job market, with a historically low unemployment, talented employees have many options, despite headlines about recent layoffs. Companies that don’t prioritize employee well-being and work-life balance risk losing their best talent to competitors offering flexible working arrangements. In addition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract new talent as job seekers may view these organizations as unsupportive to their needs.

When employees feel betrayed and distrustful of their employer, their engagement and productivity suffer. Employees who are disengaged or unhappy at work are less likely to step up and may even become actively disengaged, undermining the company’s goals and objectives. That’s why we see so much stop quietly in companies that force a return to office.

As stories of Apple and Twitter’s struggle to get workers back to the office become public, these companies risk damaging their reputations. Negative publicity can make it more difficult to attract new customers, partners and investors, as well as hamper efforts to retain existing customers.

A better approach: building trust and flexibility

To avoid the pitfalls of Apple and Twitter, companies should take a more flexible approach to returning to the office, prioritizing trust and employee well-being.

Building trust starts with open and honest communication between employers and employees. Companies must be transparent about their intentions and be willing to listen to and address employee concerns. By engaging in genuine dialogue and taking employee perspectives into account, companies can build trust and show that they value their workforce.

Embracing flexible working arrangements, such as hybrid and remote working, is crucial for modern organizations. Companies that offer flexibility show their employees that they prioritize their well-being and understand the importance of a good work-life balance. This approach not only increases employee satisfaction, but also increases productivity and engagement.

Companies must prioritize employee well-being in all aspects of their operations. This includes providing mental health support, promoting a healthy work environment and providing resources for personal and professional development. By investing in the well-being of their employees, companies can create a positive work culture that fosters trust, engagement and productivity.

Leaders play a vital role in building and maintaining trust within an organization. They must lead by example, demonstrate flexibility, open communication and a commitment to employee well-being. This approach will inspire employees to trust the organization and contribute to a thriving work culture.

Related: A work-life balance helps you retain employees

Cognitive bias and the return to the office

The struggles companies like Apple and Twitter face in trying to get employees back to the office is not only an indication of broken trust and culture, but is also influenced by cognitive biases. Two specific cognitive biases, status quo bias and loss aversion play an important role in shaping employees’ perceptions and attitudes towards return policies.

Status quo bias is the tendency to prefer the current state of things to changes or alternatives. Employees who have adapted to remote working may be affected by status quo biases as they have become familiar with existing working arrangements and feel resistance to return to the office. This bias can make it more difficult for companies to convince their employees to embrace the change, as individuals may perceive the shift to office work as more disruptive and uncomfortable than it actually is.

To overcome status quo bias, companies should focus on communicating the benefits of returning to the office and providing a clear rationale for their decision. By emphasizing the benefits of face-to-face collaboration and addressing employee concerns, organizations can make the transition to the office more attractive and reduce resistance.

Loss aversion refers to individuals’ tendency to avoid losses over acquiring equivalent gains. In the context of returning to the office, employees may experience loss aversion when they perceive the potential loss of flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance they enjoyed while working remotely.

To counter loss aversion, companies must emphasize the importance of employee well-being and demonstrate their commitment to preserving the positive aspects of remote working, even in an office environment. By offering flexible working arrangements, supporting work-life balance and involving employees in the decision-making process, organizations can reduce the impact of loss aversion and promote a more positive attitude towards returning to the office.

Related: Hybrid workers are more productive at home — but now’s the time to ask them to come to the office

Conclusion

The problems Apple and Twitter face in getting employees back to the office are indicative of a broken culture, social contract and trust within these companies. The harsh, inflexible approach of these organizations is not only detrimental to the well-being of their employees, but also poses a significant risk to their productivity, employee retention and reputation. By taking a more flexible approach and prioritizing employee trust and well-being, companies can avoid these pitfalls and create a thriving, supportive work environment that benefits all involved.

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