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‘You have to do what it takes to keep your job’: The billionaire developer behind Hudson Yards thinks a recession will force people back to their desks

June 17, 2022, 9:49 AM UTC

Bosses tried cajoling people back to the office with rewards and promises of hybrid work. Then they tried threatening them, with return-to-office deadlines and threats to fire those who didn’t comply. 

Nothing’s quite worked. Nationally, U.S. office occupancy rates are hovering around 44%, according to an estimate based on access card data gathered by security tech provider Kastle Systems. 

But, in the eyes of billionaire real estate developer Stephen M. Ross, managers who want to get people back in the office may get help from an unexpected source: the looming economic slowdown.

“I think as you go into a recession and people fear that they might not have a job, that will bring people back to the office,” Ross, whose company is behind the Hudson Yards complex in New York City, told Bloomberg on Thursday. 

“The employees will recognize as we go into a recession, or as things get a little tighter, that you have to do what it takes to keep your job and to earn a living,” Ross said.

The U.S.’s tight labor market has given workers greater leverage when it comes to negotiating with their employers. Businesses have expanded benefits and offered greater flexibility in order to hold on to talent. 

But amid hiring freezes and predictions of recession, workers may end up being more willing to accept returning to the office.

“Some companies are doing layoffs, and that puts pressure on people to get back to the office and stay closer to the senior leaders,” Owen Thomas, CEO of Boston Properties, told the Wall Street Journal. 

In recent months, U.S. companies have struggled to get workers back at desks. Several companies, from Goldman Sachs to Apple, have tried to impose return-to-office deadlines, only to suspend or delay them as workers ignored these demands. Other employers, like Airbnb, have switched to permanent remote work. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently made waves in demanding that all Tesla corporate staff return to the office five days a week, or be fired. On Thursday, Musk reportedly told employees at Twitter—which offers permanent remote work for anyone who wants it—that “exceptional” workers would be allowed to work outside the office. 

A recent survey found that only half of workers asked to return to the office are actually complying. That same survey found that 40% of workers spending at least one day remotely would quit if forced to be in the office five days a week. 

The U.S. added 390,000 jobs in May, a slight decrease from the previous month but still indicative of a strong labor market. The U.S. is about 820,000 jobs shy of returning to the number of jobs offered before the pandemic. 

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