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Nearly half of remote workers ready to quit if forced to return in person

July 14, 2021, 11:00 AM UTC

Corporate titans and coffee shop owners alike are scrambling to fill openings while also trying to persuade staff to stick around as the U.S. reopening coincides with a massive uptick in Americans quitting their jobs. Indeed, the highest “quit rates” ever recorded were in April and May. 

Of course, the improved labor market—with headhunters offering enticing packages—is fueling the trend. But is there more at play? Is an employer’s decision to reopen offices pushing some workers to flee? To find out, Fortune teamed up with Momentive (formerly known as SurveyMonkey) to poll more than 2,000 U.S. adults between June 11 and 14.

The finding? Employers who go back to the old normal too fast should expect to see talent walk. Nearly half of workers (49%) who are still remote or hybrid say they will look for a new job if their employer forces them back to the office after the pandemic ends. That pushback may explain why Amazon recently softened its back-to-work policy.

Our poll finds young staffers are the most likely to bounce. Among baby-boomer workers, 32% say they would look for a new job if their employer requires them to return to five days a week in the office. But among millennials, that figure shoots up 25 percentage points to a staggering 57%. The very real threat of losing talent—especially young staffers—is why so many employers are dragging their feet when it comes to return policies.

Some employers are even positioning themselves to benefit from this wave of resignations. While Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are implementing strict return policies, Citigroup is out touting its flexible policies as it recruits talent away from other financial institutions. For the majority of Citigroup’s corporate staffers, their roles will be designated as hybrid—requiring just three days a week in the office. For a New York–based big bank, that’s groundbreaking.

While employers who force all their staffers to return to the office are at serious risk of losing talent, that doesn’t mean the office is dead. Only 16% of workers told Fortune-Momentive that they would like to be fully remote once the pandemic ends, while 82% said either “always in the office” (48%) or sometimes/hybrid (34%). Simply put, most workers don’t want to be fully remote—they just want the flexibility. 

The heads of corporate America are largely on board with this mixed approach. In our May poll of Fortune 500 CEOs, 53% said two or three days per week in the office is the optimal setup for “knowledge workers”; 39% said four or five days; and 3% said one day or less. 

*Methodology: The Fortune-Momentive poll was conducted among a national sample of 2,098 adults in the U.S. between June 11 and 14. This survey’s modeled error estimate is plus or minus three percentage points. The findings have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography.

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