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SURVEY: The future of work is already here – and it’s not fully remote

62% Gen Z, 51% Millennials would consider leaving jobs based on employer’s return-to-office plans

The Great Resignation is showing signs of slowing, but there is a significant disconnect between management and employees on what it takes to retain workers in the post-COVID work environment.

A new survey from Nationwide revealed that as in-office work rebounds across the country, employees want continued flexibility with where and when they work. However, most business owners expect to be working in person full-time a year from now – leaving 1-in-3 owners nervous about announcing their company’s return-to-office decisions and the impact it could have on retention.

“For some workers, the ideal environment is in the office while for others it’s virtual. There are also many who want a combination of the two,” said Nationwide Chief Human Resources Officer Vinita Clements. “At Nationwide, we believe it’s most important to focus on our culture and provide the type of flexibility that allows professionals to be their most productive, creative and collaborative from wherever they work.”

Businesses and their employees are disconnected on post-COVID perks
Nationwide’s latest Agency Forward survey suggests the Great Resignation trend may be cooling as few business owners reported increased resignations over the past six months and only 4% of employees say they started a new full-time job during that period. However, employee retention challenges are still weighing on business owners after ballooning during the pandemic.  

Many owners also appear out of touch with why their employees are leaving. Three-in-10 owners say resignations are due to employees wanting to pursue a passion and 28% believe employees were just burnt out or didn’t have enough work flexibility. But employees cite better job security, stronger cultural fit, or more competitive financial incentives as their top reasons for seeking a new job.

“Three-quarters of U.S. workers received flexibility with how and when they worked during the pandemic, and of those who didn’t have flexibility, 42% considered leaving their jobs as a result,” said Linda Stueber, Senior Vice President for Commercial Lines at Nationwide. “Employers who are able to demonstrate continued flexibility and personalization for employees in their work will be most successful in today’s competitive labor market.”

Most Gen Z and Millennials would leave based on their employer’s return-to-office plans
Two years after the pandemic’s onset, in-office work is rebounding. Today, half of business owners and employees say they’re working full-time in-person compared to just 35% at the height of COVID.

But as most business owners expect their workforces to be full-time in-person next year, 1-in-3 are worried about the impacts announcing their return-to-office decisions could have on retention.

The good news for business owners – most employees (62%) wouldn’t consider leaving based solely on their employer’s return-to-work plans. Flexibility is particularly important to younger workers, though, as 62% of Gen Z employees and 51% of Millennial employees would consider leaving based solely on their employer’s plans.  

Employees and managers prefer in-person work post COVID, but choice and flexibility are critical
As remote work continues across much of the globe, employees and business owners are surprisingly on the same page in believing that in-person work provides the most value to the organization. While nearly half of employees agree with that sentiment, they’re still split on where they want to work post-pandemic:

  • 35% of employees would prefer full-time, in-person work
  • 35% would like a hybrid work environment
  • 30% would prefer full-time remote work

Gen Z and Baby Boomer employees are more likely than average to prefer full-time in-person work, while Millennial employees are more likely to prefer full-time remote work.

About half (49%) of business owners expect to be operating full-time-in-person a year from now. Despite this, leaning into flexibility could be the key to retaining and attracting top talent to their companies. Only 36% of businesses are currently offering flexibility for employees to choose where they work or when they work. Another 31% have no plans to consider offering flexibility, including 43% of small business owners. Meanwhile, 68% of employees consider flexibility with how or when they work as an important factor when evaluating jobs.

“With work from home, work from office and dozens of hybrid work options in between likely to remain part of the modern work environment, it’s a good time for employers to really think about the kinds of work that can be done in an office and what can be done remotely,” said Stueber. “Having this clarity and looking for ways to provide flexibility can help business owners attract and retain employees and keep their long-term business plans on track.”

Insurance agents can prepare commercial customers for evolving or unseen risks
As business owners roll out go-forward work plans, here are some important topics to broach with business owner customers:

  • Cyber liability insurance is important no matter where their work takes place. Employers said their likelihood for a cyberattack increased during the pandemic, but alarmingly, at least 4-in-10 workers haven’t received training to protect against cyberthreats. 
  • Strong employee benefits with offerings like group and specialty insurance plans, traditional retirement plans, or voluntary benefits like pet insurance can help attract and retain workers.
  • High labor demand sometimes leads to rushed hiring processes. Employers must continue thorough employee screening, onboarding and safety training to reduce risks with less-experienced workers and help maintain reasonable workers’ compensation rates.
  • Don’t forget the business continuity planning lessons learned through COVID. Even if workforces are back in person, business continuity planning will remain vital for preventing lengthy disruptions that could be brought on by supply chain issues, significant weather events or other challenges.
  • Private Company Management Liability coverage is essential for companies of all sizes and sectors to help reduce exposure to employment-related liability in today’s constantly changing business environment.

For additional insights from this survey data, view the Agency Forward survey report.

Survey Methodology: Nationwide and Edelman Data & Intelligence conducted a national online survey of 1,000 US employees in an office setting, 400 independent insurance agents, 400 middle market business owners, and 399 small business owners to understand what employment and workplace shifts are happening and provide unique expertise to help them navigate this new work environment.  The study was fielded from February 1 to February 20, 2022.