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Return to Office Not Tied to Increased Profits

WebMD's parent company, Internet Brands, went viral this week with a video demanding employees return to the office. "Return to the office, or else" is placed prominently throughout the video, and it ends with "Don't mess with us." After it went viral, the company pulled the video from its public account. Other employers have also issued mandates, some threatening promotions and job security for failing to comply. Harvard Business School Professor Prithwiraj Choudhury commented the “veiled threats about promotions and salary increases” are unfortunate “because this is your talent pool, your most valuable resource.”

A recent Penn State study referenced in the Washington Post reflects that office mandates may not improve an employer's financial performance. But, these return-to-office demands can lead to less employee satisfaction and diminished work-life balance. The study's authors found no difference in their sample review of Standard & Poor's 500 firms, analyzing changes in quarterly results and stock prices between companies with and without office mandates between June 2019 and January 2023. While some employers push employees hard to return to work, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found little change in the number of people on-site.

Professor Choudhury recommends that employers focus on creating team-based policies, assessing which teams are most productive in person, and implementing structured collaboration on those in-person days. He does not see that requiring employees to be fully back to the office boosts productivity and calls those requirements "return-to-the-past mandates." Mark Ma, co-author of the Penn State study, told the Post that mandates make workers "less happy, therefore less productive and more likely to look for a new job."