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Work warning as Aussie 'backed into corner' quits over return to office

Sarah’s boss told her she needed to return to the office full-time. Now, she’s looking for another job.

Sarah* is one of millions of Aussie workers who would rather quit their jobs than return to the office.

In 2022, Sarah and her family decided to make the move out of Sydney to escape the city’s expensive rental market and secure better value for money.

At the time, the mum of one’s workplace told her she could continue with the flexible arrangement of working two days from home and two days from the Sydney office - a two-hour commute each way.

Mum working from home with daughter over working in the office.
Half of Aussie workers like Sarah (not pictured) say they would be prepared to walk if they were forced to spend more time in the office. (Source: Getty)

Do you have a story to share? Contact tamika.seeto@yahooinc.com

Yahoo Finance spoke with a lawyer about your rights to refuse returning to the office. Check out the details here.

Sarah, who works in the luxury retail space, said the ability to work from home some of the week meant she was able to have better work-life balance, could pick up her child from day care and could fit in daily exercise.

She is now feeling “overwhelmed” and “physically exhausted” after being told a few months ago she must return to the office four days a week.

“I have started looking for other jobs,” Sarah told Yahoo Finance. “I sort of felt backed into a corner and like I didn’t have a choice. It’s really affecting my mental health.

“I’ve been taking days off where I can because, every couple of weeks, it does get quite overwhelming, especially having a family. Physically, it takes too much of a toll on me and my family. The commute is really intense and doesn’t leave me time to exercise or a lot of time with the family.”

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While Sarah acknowledged some of her job needed to be done in the office, she said other aspects could be completed from home - something she’d been doing for more than a year. And while Sarah raised her concerns over the return to the office, she felt like she “didn’t have a leg to stand on”.

She has now started looking for a new job and said having the flexibility to work from home was the main thing she was looking for.

Flexible work now non-negotiable

More than half (56 per cent) of Aussie workers would consider quitting if they were forced to spend more time in the office, according to Randstad’s latest Workmonitor report, with more women than men holding this view.

Flexible work is now a non-negotiable for many workers (55 per cent), with nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) saying they’d made changes in their lives - such as moving house or getting a pet - based on the assumption that working from home was here to stay.

This is despite workers expressing growing concerns around job security, with 44 per cent of workers admitting they were worried about losing their job. This is up 17 per cent from the same time last year and comes with the unemployment rate sitting at 3.9 per cent.

‘Quiet quitting’ risk

Randstad NSW director Jo Jakobs said this meant there was a risk that workers who ended up staying with their employer could grow resentful.

“Even though the market is definitely quieter than what it was in the last few years, the risk is that people do more of that sort of quiet quitting,” Jakobs told Yahoo Finance.

“They feel resentful and they feel trapped in a situation where, in any other circumstance, they would go out and look for another job that would speak to that flexibility.

“That’s a risk for companies. They might not see it from an attrition perspective but, if they look at it from a cultural, performance or output perspective, they may see it.”

Jo Jakobs
Randstad NSW director Jo Jakobs said there was a risk employees could quiet quit. (Source: Randstad)

Businesses introducing office mandates could also face risks in terms of employee attraction and engagement in the future when demand picks up.

Corporations are making moves to get staff back into the office, with ANZ, Suncorp and Origin tying staff bonuses to office presence.

Jakobs noted that office mandates would have more of an impact on women, who were often the primary carer for children.

“Moving back into the more traditional, by mandating coming back to work, is going to be a real conundrum,” she said. “It could have downstream impacts on women’s participation in the workforce.”

Jakobs recommended employees facing office mandates seek to understand the ‘why’ behind the requirement, before going in with the facts and proving their productivity and performance hadn’t changed.

“Don’t sit on it and dwell on it and get angry and resentful. Have a respectful and considered discussion with your employer,” she said.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons

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