Hired as a hybrid employee, and then that benefit is going away

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Q: I started a new job about six months ago.  I was hired under a hybrid work arrangement.  Now, the CEO has mandated that we all must return to the office five days/week.  One of the reasons I accepted this role was that it gave me some flexibility.  Can a CEO do this? 

A: Your situation is unfortunate but more common that you may believe.  With under 3% unemployment in Massachusetts, it may not be the smartest decision for your company.  I would expect some turnover as a result of this decision; however, it depends on the industry.

Your employer can change the terms and conditions of your role, assuming you are an at-will employee, and not a member of a union.  Your employer can change many facets of your role.  Your employer can change a compensation policy, a medical plan or an office layout.  Similarly, your employer can change the requirement of where you work.

One thought is to approach your leadership with an alternative plan.  Guidance is helpful when offering a hybrid schedule.  Some details to think about include who is eligible.   Some employers offer a hybrid schedule as a privilege vs. an across-the-board benefit.  Some employers only offer remote or hybrid work schedules to those who have significant experience or are at a certain level.  Some employers offer alternative schedules to employees who have completed a certain number of months or years of experience with the company.

One of the benefits to the employer is the consolidation of office space.   Lots of employers are shrinking the square footage as fewer employees are coming into the office.  Another significant benefit is employee retention.

Mercer, a leader studying organizations and employees, found that employees are prioritizing their well-being.  About 66% of employees appreciate hybrid or remote work, and feel more valued and empowered.

It will be hard to “put the genie back in the bottle” with respect to hybrid and remote work.  One argument against 100% remote work, is the impact on informal brainstorming or stopping a colleague in the hallway to ask them a question.  This may be a valid concern.  Some employers are trying to preserve that knowledge transfer by requiring employees to work the same day or two every week.

Assuming you are in a role and industry which “works” with a hybrid arrangement, your employer risk losing employees.  Many candidates ask about remote and/or hybrid schedules, and it is awfully hard to lose a benefit like a flexible schedule.  Employee retention and the loss of talent is a very real challenge now for most employers.  And hybrid and remote work schedules are a benefit which are minimal cost, and could even be a savings with the reduction of office space.

Successful companies, using a hybrid model understand that a hybrid model, just like any other employee benefit, may need to be evaluated periodically.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.