Return to Office Mandates in America

What are Return to Office Mandates and Why Have They Become Controversial?

With the United States as well as the wider world having recovered from the disruption caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, employers in the US and elsewhere are asking their employees to Return to Office, or in other words, resume Onsite work.

Since the entire US was locked down at some point or the other, WFH, or Work from Home became the norm for Millions of professionals. This was especially true for those employed in the technology and BFSI, or Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance sectors, as well in the media.

Indeed, what was once thought to be an “optional” or “nice to have”, but not essential convenience of Working from Home, became the critical arrangement without which the US economy would have collapsed.

However, the end of the Pandemic did not really mean the end of WFH. Either because of convenience, or because of necessity, Millions of Americans continued to Work from Home, making it almost permanent in some firms. For instance, Twitter before it became X, under Elon Musk, gave its employees the option of WFH on a permanent basis. Similarly, many media organizations too followed perpetual WFH, to save costs on office rents, as well as for flexi work, essential in their sectors.

As Americans became used to WFH, many of them are now resisting the Return to Office mandates, which their employers are literally forcing it on them. Reasons for this include, relocating to smaller towns or far-flung suburbs due to WFH or Remote work, reluctance to spend long hours on commutes, ease of working at one’s pace, having to take care of dependents especially kids, and by and large, unenthusiastic about Return to Office.

However, these reasons are not cutting it with their employers, and this is the reason for using the term “mandates”, which in effect means an “order” to the employees.

While these mandates were being issued for a year or so in many firms, it was not until this week’s Labor Day holiday, that nearly 80 percent of Americans were ordered to Return to Office. Indeed, some business websites like Quartz media reported that Millions of American professionals now have to Return to Office or risk punitive action from their employers.

How American Corporates are Using Carrot and Stick Approach

Given the resistance from employees to Return to Office, some corporates are trying a Carrot and Stick approach wherein they “sweeten” the mandates, by compensating the employees through incentives, as well as through threat of action.

Office Desk

For instance, many tech firms, which until recently had a strict Return to Office mandate, are now offering their employees a few days Onsite and the remaining days WFH option. They are also incentivizing women professionals with Daycare at work, Creche for younger children, and optional WFH in some cases. Plus, they are also offering more pay as well.

The enforcement part is somewhat tricky as corporates “insist” employees Return to Office, no matter what, in some cases. Amazon, for instance, has a very strict policy here, where employees can get terminated for not returning to office. Some others follow a less-stricter mandate, wherein termination is the last resort.

Having said that, we would like to point out that there are exceptions like Google, where traditionally employees have had greater freedom, which is now continuing with a flexible Return to Office option. So, not all corporations can be lumped together as far as Return to Office Mandates are concerned.

What Does The Research Say On Return to Office Versus Work From Home

As the tussle between the employers and employees continues, an increasing number of researchers are coming out with studies on whether Onsite work is better for the businesses or WFH is preferable. The research is also focused on what is good for the employees and about which option increases productivity.

So far, there is not much evidence that WFH is preferable for Corporates or Onsite work is better. Of course, as expected, a majority of the respondents to surveys cited WFH as being preferable from the employees’ point of view.

However, Quartz media also reports that American businesses overwhelmingly prefer Onsite work as it gives them greater control over their employees. In addition, the surveys of C Suite professionals indicate a marked preference for Onsite work, especially for the good of the incoming generation of professionals.

As is evident, the Business Leaders want the fresher’s and the early-stage career workers to have the benefit of Face to Face or F2F interactions, thereby engaging them, and giving them the chance to be mentored, as well as gain from the experience and wisdom of older managers.

The Role of Human Resource Managers in Enforcing Return to Office Mandates

As the debate rages on, it is clear that enforcing Return to Office Mandates would not be an easy task. This is where skilled Human Resource managers can help as they can be the “bridge” between the Senior leadership and the employees.

Moreover, like the Personnel Managers in the earlier eras, the HR managers might also need to take legal advice on enforcing Return to Office Mandates as there is every possibility of the courts getting involved here. Given the fact that the United States has some of the highest litigation instances for corporates, this is an issue that needs sensitive handling.


Given the stakes involved for both American corporates and their Employees, we suggest wider stakeholder consultation to arrive at a mutually beneficial solution. As things stand, the Return to Office Mandates are in place and are being enforced.

To conclude, America Inc. has a tough call here and hopefully, the Pandemic doesn’t “return” complicating an already fraught situation.

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