19. September 2023

Why is everyone talking about… RTO layoffs?

Personio Pulse: This Week in HR - 3

Welcome to Personio Pulse: This Week in HR, where each week we take a look at the latest trends in the world of work, what you need to know about them and what they mean for you as an HR professional. 

This week we’re covering layoffs disguised as RTO policies.

What you need to know

An idea bouncing around the internet this month is that organisations may be using return-to-office (RTO) mandates to disguise layoffs. 

With Grindr losing 80 of their 178 workers after making staff relocate near an office and Meta’s RTO policy taking effect (not to mention Amazon or AT&T), companies large and small are making headlines after losing employees due to stricter RTO mandates.

Several tech companies have also retracted their work-from-home policies popularised during the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a sense of uncertainty and, for some, cynicism.

What others are saying about it 

Perhaps that cynicism is well-placed. Laurie Ruettimann, a workplace expert and career consultant, says “RTO is a cheap and dirty way for companies to avoid legal complications and financial obligations associated with layoffs” by “daring employees to quit.”

But is the trend being over-hyped? While a post-Covid-19 reversal on remote work is affecting some industries, there’s a bigger picture to address. “What doesn’t get the headlines is that there’s a bigger percentage of companies moving from full-time in the office to much more flexibility,” says Brian Elliott, co-founder of Future Forum, a consortium on the future of work.

What that means for you

Looking at the longer-term trend, the workplace today is more flexible than it was pre-Covid-19, with many of the headline-grabbing RTO mandates more accurately being described as hybrid work. Indeed, the media hyped the irony of Zoom making people return to the office while the mandate was for only two days in the office per week.

The real takeaway for us is that most companies haven’t figured out their RTO policies yet. Here’s what to bear in mind:

  • The RTO policy you have today may not look the same for long. We’ll likely see more movement on what a good policy looks like, so stay flexible.

  • Covid-19 still exists. With a new strain spreading in the UK, world events may once more dictate workplace norms, and strict RTO mandates could become redundant

If there’s one thing Covid-19 taught HR, it’s that agility is critical. We predict more changes before this RTO question is settled. 

What else should I read? 

That's all for this week's edition of Personio Pulse: This Week in HR. Check back next week as we continue to dissect the latest trends impacting the ways we work. 

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Anna Jager-Elliott

Anna Jager-Elliott

Anna Jager-Elliott is a Senior Content Strategist at Personio. She enjoys watching trends emerge in the world of work and writing about how they'll affect our day-to-day experiences.

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