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McKinsey study shows deep employee-employer disconnect over the return to in-person work

Posted by Kanika Sinha

October 4, 2021

Employers and employees are seeing the post-pandemic future of work very differently. While employers are keen to get back to a significant in-person presence, employees want to retain at least some elements of remote work. This broadening disconnect is likely to trigger a spike in attrition and disengagement, according to a new McKinsey report.

The report’s findings

As organizations grapple with the challenges of what a return to the office should look like, McKinsey conducted a study recently to gauge the views of leaders and their direct reports about the uncertain terrain before them. Here’s how the participants responded. 

What employers expect

  • More than three-quarters of 504 surveyed C-Suite executives report they expect the typical “core” employee to be back in the office soon for three or more days a week. 
  • Though they found the work-from-home experiment surprisingly effective, they also believe that remote work culture hurts organizational culture and the sense of belongingness, and are therefore keen to establish normalcy quickly.
  • In the view of surveyed executives, the new normal will be more flexible but not drastically different from the workplace of the past. That is, for employers, the office was and will be the primary center for work, and they want their employees back in the office sooner. 
What employees want

  • Most government and corporate employees in the survey preferred a more flexible work model where employees sometimes work on-premises and sometimes work remotely.
  • Nearly three-quarters of the 5,043 employees surveyed want to work from home for two or more days every week; over half want at least three days of remote work weekly.
  • Many employees expressed a disconnect between their personal lives and work obligations, prompting some to reevaluate their relationships with their employers.
What’s coming next?

With workers across the globe leaving their companies at a higher rate than normal, the much-hyped great attrition of 2021 (and 2022, and even 2023) seems to be shaping up. An April 2021 survey by Prudential Financial found that 26% of workers in the U.S. plan to look for new employment opportunities. Some 40% of workers globally are considering quitting their current jobs 2021’s end, cites a March 2021 report by Microsoft.

In all likelihood, the discordant views of employers and employees on returning to work will surface in the form of reduced engagement, a greater reluctance to work longer hours and attrition in the coming times.

What should employers do?

In the enthusiasm about the return to in-person work, employers risk exacerbating the disconnect with employees. Here’s how businesses can address the issue:
  • Instead of directing the rah-rah return to the office, leaders should focus on deeper listening to know where employees are today.
  • Organizations must come up with hybrid solutions for working arrangements to retain talent in the post-pandemic milieu. 
  • Employers must acknowledge they don’t have all the answers and will try to create a model that works for them and employees. 
  • Leaders should work transparently with employees to design how their companies work. 


Employers should not underestimate the schism between themselves and their employees about the future of in-person work. The divide runs deep and should be considered a reckoning. 


Kanika Sinha
Kanika Sinha

Kanika is an enthusiastic content writer who craves to push the boundaries and explore uncharted territories. With her exceptional writing skills and in-depth knowledge of business-to-business dynamics, she creates compelling narratives that help businesses achieve tangible ROI. When not hunched over the keyboard, you can find her sweating it out in the gym, or indulging in a marathon of adorable movies with her young son.

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