Johnson urges young people to return to the office or risk being ‘gossiped about and lose out’

Yesterday, during an interview with LDC, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged young workers across the UK to get back to the office or risk being ‘gossiped about and lose out’.

However, Johnson also admitted that not all of his own staff had returned from flexible or remote working conditions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Describing the return to the office for young people as ‘essential’, he then doubled down on this during the Conservative Party Conference.

Today, Johnson said: “We know that a productive workforce needs the spur that only comes with face-to-face meetings and water cooler gossip. If young people are to learn on the job in the way that they always have, and must, we will, and must, see people back in the office.”

In response to the Prime Minister’s speech where he called on workers to return to the office, Andrew Mawson, one of the Founding Directors of global consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) spoke to Business Leader.

He comments: “The truth is that the Covid-19 has given people an insight into a different life  – one with potentially less travel, greater flexibility and a far better work-life balance. Of course, the experience people have had varies depending upon home facilities, personality, job and social needs, but for the majority the upside of less office time is pretty clear. Yes, we’re hearing of ‘Zoom Burnout’ and of course people are yearning for social ‘face to face in the same place’ contact. But that can be fixed by organisations and employees shifting to new ways of managing their time and affairs.

“From a business standpoint leaders are seeing their businesses seeing reduced facilities costs and a reduced carbon footprint with no negative impact on the quality and quantity of work produced. Not surprisingly they are seriously wondering whether they can run their businesses in ‘virtual’ – or largely ‘virtual’ mode for the long term.

“Boris, I’m afraid the Genie is out of the bottle. Regardless of your ‘instruction’ to go back to the office many people and organisations have discovered the potency and efficacy of their new virtual lives.”

How to talk to your boss about returning to the office

Boris Johnson has urged the UK workforce back into the office, valuing face-to-face working, particularly for younger employees, during his address at the Conservative Party Conference. Whilst workers are starting to head back to the workplace, many are and will still be feeling anxious not just about Covid-19 cases, but what their new working routine will look like. To help, Amy Tomlinson, Head of HR at MetLife UK, shares some tips for workers on how to talk to their boss about returning to work.

It’s been well over a year for many working from home. And although this new normal may have taken some getting use to, as we start to head back to the office, the return to a much more structured daily routine may come as a shock. Particularly for those who are concerned about their health, loved ones, or who are returning to work after having time off due to an illness, such as Long Covid.

As lockdown restrictions begin to lift, many businesses are confirming their workplace intentions – whether that’s returning to the office full time, hybrid working or continuing to work from home on a permanent basis. But for some workers, they are still waiting to hear what returning to the office will look like. While we wait for restrictions to be lifted, workers might be feeling anxious – but what should they do?

  • Speak to your boss about any concerns

Having concerns about returning to the office is to be expected, something that a year ago would have just been another day now feels like a big milestone. Working from home has been the new normal for over a year now, so it’s not surprising that it will take time to adjust to the transition. Just like moving from the office to home was for others. But if you have concerns then speak to your boss. They’ll be able to help support you. You may feel hesitant about speaking to them, but help is there for when you need it. Our Re:Me research found that six in ten (61%) workers say their boss is more aware of their personal circumstances than ever before. So, you most certainly won’t be alone and its important leaders are aware of how their teams are feeling.

  • Ask about flexible working

Many employers have already announced what the return to work will look like when lockdown restrictions are fully lifted, but if your company has yet to release their plans, don’t be afraid to speak to your boss or HR team and ask for an update. If your employer is planning full office-based working, then speak to them to see what their flexible working policy is and if there is the option to work from home – even if just a couple of days a week. You may find they’ll be much more receptive to flexible working than before the pandemic. Writing a formal proposal clearly and confidently will help explain why you feel this decision is best for your productivity and personal wellbeing. It is important to consider how you plan to remain fully connected to the business and colleagues if others are returning to the office.

  • Support others

Some workers will be excited to return to the office, while for others, they would prefer to work from home. So, it’s important to support your colleagues and respect that it might be more difficult or easier for some than it will be for others. Being sympathetic and understanding will go a long way to making those feeling more anxious about returning, more comfortable. Providing channels for staff to share their concerns is critical to helping them to best adjust.

  • Take it easy and ask for help

If you’ve had a significant amount of time off work due to illness, such as long COVID, then its important you have a clear pathway to return to work. Speak to your support network if you have any concerns. Long COVID is very new and not much is known about it, so don’t be too disheartened if your colleagues don’t fully understand. Speak to your boss or HR team to see what support is available via your employee benefits. We offer MetLife policyholders access to a range of wellbeing services, with support available 24 hours a day. For Group Income Protection, we also offer a new rehabilitation service, which is designed to support the management of symptoms which most significantly impact workers, with a focus on empowering them to return to their pre-COVID activities.

  • Be open and honest

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, or know of a worker who is, then be open, honest and speak to a colleague or your boss. The pandemic has been a challenging time. From being told to socially distance, only leave for essential journeys and not seeing family, friends or colleagues, it may feel strange to overnight return to a greater degree of normality. Easing yourself in may help too, so perhaps see if you can visit the office 1 day a week to familiarise yourself once more. Others will feel the same, so lean on your colleagues and networks of support within the organisation.