Nearly half of US government workers could quit if telework reduced, survey finds

By on 23/05/2023 | Updated on 23/05/2023
Photo by Zen Chung via Pexels

Nearly half (45%) of US government employees would consider looking for a new job should their agency reduce remote and hybrid working, according to a new survey.

The study of more than 500 federal, state and local government workers finds that 59% of those who have remote or hybrid working arrangements say their job satisfaction would decrease if their employer mandated a return to in-person work, while 44% say their productivity would decrease with such a requirement.

Concerns about working from workplaces more often centre around work/life balance (45%), time spent commuting (43%), higher costs (38%), and stress (34%).

However, the telework survey from Eagle Hill Consulting – which was conducted by Ipsos between late April and early May 2023 and published last week – also finds that most respondents see value in working in-person for certain tasks.

For example, while respondents say remote work promotes deep thinking (64%) and focus (58%) and is better when doing research (61%), 85% say team building and integrating a new team member is managed better in the workplace, as is managing teams (77%); onboarding (72%); training (72%); kicking off a new project (71%); and getting a project back on track (70%).

Performance discussions, giving and receiving feedback, classified work, and brainstorming are also perceived to be done better face-to-face, with between 58% and 69% of respondents agreeing in each case.

Read more of Global Government Forum’s coverage of hybrid work issues here

The benefits of in-person work include socialisation (42%), improved collaboration (34%), and the ability to leave work at the office (33%), while more than half of government employees (54%) say those who work in the office more than they do remotely are more likely to be successful in their jobs.  

The findings indicate that there is a balance between offering employees the flexibility to work remotely and getting colleagues together in offices for collaboration and socialisation.

Biden administration seeks to reduce federal teleworking

The survey results come as the Biden administration works to reduce teleworking at federal agencies. A memo sent to agency heads by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Shalanda Young on 13 April – a year after agencies began implementing their return-to-office plans – noted that the workforce would “generally [be] expected to increase meaningful in-person work… while still using flexible operational policies as an important tool in talent recruitment and retention”.

The OMB’s guidance urged agencies to monitor their “organisational health and organisational performance” as part of the move.

Read more: Biden administration rolls back telework

Melissa Jezior, president and chief executive officer of Eagle Hill Consulting, said: “The research is clear that most government employees want a certain degree of in-person work, but they don’t like rigid rules on how they work. In the end, agencies that best navigate remote work will have a high level of trust between employees and managers, an environment that fosters good communication, and effective processes for managing performance outcomes.”

She said that government leaders “are on a tightrope” when it comes to the new telework and organisational health guidance released by the OMB and acknowledged that crafting new ‘work environment plans’ would be complicated. “Our research suggests that approaches to remote and hybrid government work must be nuanced,” she said.

Leaders would need to re-imagine traditional work schedules with a focus on flexibility, perhaps allowing remote work for tasks that can be done by an individual without input from colleagues whilst facilitating collaborative time in the workplace, she added.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, many other countries are working to embed flexible working arrangements. The Canadian federal government requires public servants to work from the office at least two to three days a week, and the Australian federal government has moved to a flexible work by default model. Under new proposals put forward as part of bargaining talks, Australian public servants would be able to request an unlimited number of remote work days. The Australian Public Service Commission has also said it would cautiously consider implementing a four-day work week.

Read more: A tricky synthesis: how can public sector management master the hybrid work model?

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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