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Should I Stay or Should I Go: Is WFH Worth a Career Move?


A worker at the crosswalks of going back to the office or not
Image: katakari -
While the debate on returning to the office rages on, some companies are becoming increasingly firm with their return-to-office plans. One example is Morgan Stanley, whose CEO James Gorman has encouraged employees to be back in the office by Labor Day or face the consequence.
At an investor’s conference earlier this week, Gorman discussed the importance of the company’s physical offices for training employees and developing talent, as reported in this BBC article. If employees don’t come back to the office by Labor Day, their managers might need to have a “conversation” with them, he said. Gorman quipped: "If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office.”
Though Morgan Stanley joins other financial institutions, including Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, is calling employees back into the office, the tone of the comments struck some inside the business world as a bit, well, harsh. Some workplace pundits have even conflated this overall message and tone (be back or pack your bags) with the surge of people quitting their job in recent months, as discussed in this Axios article.
For some perspective on how employees are feeling about all this, a recent survey from market research firm Morning Consult found that 39% of its 1,000 respondents “would consider quitting their job” if they didn’t have a flexible work option, as reported in this Business Insider article. In another survey shared in the article, FlexJobs found of the 2,100 people surveyed 58% said that they would absolutely look for a new job if they couldn’t continue remote work.
While these percentages certainly are high — and workplace leaders should pay close attention to changing attitudes among potential workers — I wonder if these findings really spell the doom that they are reporting. For the Morning Consult survey, employees saying that they “would consider” is different than saying, “I would definitely look for a new job.” When push comes to shove, or the right in-office job opportunity presents itself, they might back down from their bold WFH-forever stance.
A separate Business insider article pointed to several other factors for why employees are quitting en masse. Workers that saw boosts in productivity in the last year are feeling empowered to ask for more money, Business Insider reported. Many large companies have thus responded with higher wages to attract talent. While not discussed in the article, employees are also generally more willing to make career changes when they think the economy and job market are healthy.
However, I think these reports indicate something important: CEOs and their workers no longer agree on the best working model. Taking one more poll into consideration, the Best Practice Institute found 83% of CEOs wanted employees to return, but only 10% of employees wanted to work in the office full time, as reported in this Newsweek article. So, if CEOs want employees back in the office, they are going to have to make the case — hopefully without ultimatums — and that might be difficult given what we’ve learned over the last year.
Regardless of what a workplace ultimately decides, this disconnect will have lasting impacts on how workplaces operate moving forward. CEOs that come down strongly against work from home might find their candidate pools shrink post-pandemic. Most importantly, tone matters to future and present employees.

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