HR Strategy

What HR pros can learn from different employee responses to RTO

A look at what’s working, and not working, with companies’ RTO plans.
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· 3 min read

Clint Eastwood coined the phrase “the good, the bad, and the ugly” with his 1966 film of the same name. Now, in 2023, we can use that phrase to describe how some companies’ RTO policies have gone over with employees. Unlike Eastwood’s film, figuring out what RTO plan works best for your company isn’t likely to be resolved in 2 hours and 58 minutes.

“There is no standard way of working. There’s just a lot of different companies and a lot of teams within companies adopting whatever works [for them],” Dror Poleg, a future-of-work consultant, previously told HR Brew.

Here, we take a look at some recent RTO policies, and what HR pros can learn from the good and the bad. (We’ll spare you the ugly.)

The good. JM Smucker has, since January 2022, required in-person attendance for its corporate workers during 22 “core” weeks a year, the Wall Street Journal reported. Workers can live anywhere in the US, as long as they’re on its Orrville, Ohio-based campus for roughly six days a month, and they foot the bill for travel and accommodations.

Jill Penrose, chief people officer at JM Smucker, told the Wall Street Journal that “the company hasn’t seen its culture slow or employees put off tasks until core weeks,” but it will “reassess its approach if business results dip, employee development sags or workers indicate on internal surveys that they lack a connection to the company or its culture.”

For some employees, the core weeks seem to be working out. Nicole Massey, JM Smucker’s VP of marketing, told the WSJ that the policy has led to a promotion and more of a separation between her home and work lives.

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The bad. LGBTQ dating app Grindr lost nearly half (45%) of its corporate staff in August when they refused to relocate closer to the California-based office and comply with the company’s twice-weekly in-person work work mandate.

The mandate came after the staff attempted to unionize through the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Bloomberg reported. CWA alleges that the severance packages Grindr offered to employees unable to relocate were intended “to silence workers.”

The pushback from Grindr employees is the result of a “broader tension between employers and their workers as they are increasingly called back to the office after years of flexible work policies,” according to Bloomberg.

Moral of the story? To avoid becoming part of the 80% of executives who say they regret their RTO policies, according to an August report from workplace platform Envoy, HR pros should consider what they can learn from Grindr and JM Smucker’s snafus.

When it comes to RTO, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and companies that lean into what their employees want may find the best success, Lívia de Bastos Martini, chief people officer at corporate wellness company Gympass, told HR Brew. Her company has a flexible model, where the majority of employees choose how often they go into the office, and the rest are fully remote.

“This has to be something that the employees have a voice in…and we’re making that [a] cohesive strategy by saying people can choose what they do,” she added.

Only time will tell how the RTO revolution will pan out—but your plan might be more well-received if you listen to your employees.

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