Return to office (RTO) mandates aren’t worth the talent risks: Gartner

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Return-to-office (RTO) mandates are increasingly becoming a point of contention within organizations. Over the past year, 63% of HR leaders have reported a rise in expectations for employees to return to the office. However, 74% of these leaders also cite these mandates as a significant source of conflict.

Given the current well-being crisis, declining trust between employees and employers, and a competitive talent market, it’s crucial to evaluate whether RTO mandates are worth the risks.

Employees in organizations with RTO mandates report a lower intent to stay compared to those without such mandates. High-performers, women, and millennials, who highly value flexibility, are particularly at risk of leaving.

Women and millenials report feeling negative impacts from RTO polices.

High-performers tend to perceive RTO mandates as a signal of mistrust from management. High-performing employees also report a 16% lower intent to stay when faced with on-site work requirements.

RTO mandates do not necessarily improve performance or inclusion. Nearly two-thirds of employees report they work best in a remote environment and feel more included working remotely compared to onsite.

RTO mandates do offer some benefits. Managers, who have experienced significant changes with the shift to hybrid and remote work, see the greatest benefits from RTO mandates due to increased visibility into their employees’ workflows. There may also be some indications that employees put in more effort in the office where they feel closely monitored, and they may be more inclined to assist colleagues as their struggles are more visible.

While in-office time can be beneficial, a flexible, Gartner notes that a human-centric hybrid model yields better results. They recommend HR leaders co-develop policies rather than impose mandates and:

  • Consider focusing employees’ on-site attendance around specific regular activities (e.g., brainstorming) and occasional events (e.g., offsites). Organizations that took this approach saw the best talent outcomes.
  • Allow employees to influence the policy. Employees who had an opportunity to shape their teams’ hybrid work arrangements demonstrated higher engagement and effort.
  • Provide a clear “why” for requirements to work on-site. Companies that did saw positive impacts on engagement, effort and retention.



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