April 2, 2023

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Third of Workers Feel Worse in Office Than Lowest Point at Pandemic

  • 1 in 3 workers feel worse in the office than they did during their lowest point working remotely.
  • Research by BambooHR has found the reality of the office didn’t meet workers’ expectations.
  • Unhappy workers cited the reduction of free perks, reduced collaboration, and poorer culture.

A substantial chunk of workers are finding their return to the office isn’t going as hoped, with 37% saying they felt worse in the office than even their lowest point in the pandemic, according to new data by software firm BambooHR.

The survey of 1,000 US adults during August 2021 canvassed opinions about the return to work and hybrid work.

The key problem, it found, is that for some workers, the reality of the office isn’t meeting their expectations. In-office perks like free food and hot drinks have been cut, for example. Workers are finding that they spend more when they head to the office.

There are mismatches in other areas. 61% of workers hoped for more in-person collaboration but only 49% actually reported experiencing it. 54% of workers thought productivity would go up, but only 35% said they experienced this. Another 37% expected improved company culture, yet again, only 21% felt it was happening. 

Part of the issue may stem from the fact that while many offices in the US have re-opened, only a third of people are working there full-time. A permanently reduced staff presence has likely change in-office culture for good.

Research showing the return to the office isn't living up to expectations

People found they experienced less in-person collaboration and other benefits of being in the office than they expected.



For the most part, remote work remains the popular option. More than half of respondents said they didn’t want to commute and 45% still viewed COVID-19 as a risk factor. Others cited better work-life balance and the fact they no longer need to dress formally for work.

Older workers are leading the trend, with a third of Gen Xers and 41% of Boomers preferring remote work. About a fifth of millennials and Gen Zers wanted to work remotely permanently, with both wanting the benefits of social interaction with colleagues.

But the survey also found managers and leaders are keen to see people back at work, partly to check what people are up to.

Increased micromanagement and surveillance, however, has only led to greater burnout and poor company culture. Workers increasingly want more flexibility and a better work-life balance with the option to choose where they work. 

“At some point in March 2020 we all said goodbye to our coworkers and expected we would see them again in a couple of weeks, but instead many of us have become permanent remote workers,” said Cassie Whitlock, head of HR at BambooHR. “As companies reopen workspaces, it’s important to understand what their people are expecting and how to manage reality in order to create a positive outcome for everyone.”