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In the return to the office, employees have the upper hand

June 9, 2021, 5:32 PM UTC
Rear view of a businesswoman having a meeting with team over a video conference in office board room.
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Welcome to Worksheet, a newsletter about how people are working smarter in these turbulent times.

In this week’s edition, S. Mitra Kalita looks at how for employers, the return to the office will mean a fight to hire, retain, and appease employees.


People are vaccinated, offices are reopening, mask mandates are lifted. But workers are making it clear that they expect something more than a “return” to the status quo ante-COVID. Instead, many are hunting for better opportunities, and companies face an intensifying war for talent—to retain and appease current employees and woo the best of the seekers.

In the initial days of the pandemic, employers held the upper hand, as workers of the world united in fear and paralysis. The seesaw teetered, though, as the crisis continued. Expanded unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums made people feel less insecure about losing work; employers’ work-from-anywhere flexibility gave a sense of leverage to those who stayed. After millions of women left the workforce, thanks to school schedules and the boss’s Zoom invites being so out of whack, employers began offering tutoring, childcare assistance, and mental-health support. We have yet to see how much of it will persist after the pandemic, but it all helped recalibrate employees’ expectations.

Jed Kolko, chief economist of Indeed, notes that the labor market never became “un-tight” in the pandemic: The number of unemployed people per job opening rose only modestly, and wage gains remained strong. People furloughed or in uncertain job situations weren’t as likely to be searching. Now it feels as if everyone is. More than a quarter of currently employed Americans are looking for a new job, according to a Prudential Financial survey—leaving companies to sprint to make up for their sins of the past year, from furloughs to frozen salaries to Friday afternoon strategy sessions.


Kalita goes on to write how in these days of the pandemic, companies no longer have the upper hand, and will have to do work in order to understand their workforce.

Read her full column here.

Wondering what else the future of work holds? Visit Fortune‘s Smarter Working hub presented by Future Forum by Slack.

This week’s reads

Business class

Longer stays, meeting new colleagues: What corporate travel looks like in a post-pandemic world (PhocusWire)

No return

Women are too busy to return to the workplace right now.

Hybrid meetings

What it takes to run a great meeting when some people are in person and others are on screen. (Harvard Business Review)

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