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By LegalEdge News

Reluctant returners: how to support staff getting back to the office

Although Covid-19 restrictions have now been removed in England, companies keen to have staff physically in the work place may be struggling to manage the process. Those who want to remain working from home indefinitely can present an HR challenge, if doing so doesn’t fit with how employers want their business to run.

Reasons people may not want to come back include: 

  • Continuing general anxiety about Covid-19
  • Being medically vulnerable themselves, or living/caring for someone who is
  • Not wanting to go back to commuting
  • Enjoying a better work/life balance
  • Saving money by working at home
  • Struggling mentally with the office routine and interacting with colleagues
  • Not seeing the point, after working effectively (as they see it) at home for so long

Here are our tips for getting staff back successfully: 

Set expectations with general communications, but ensure you talk to staff on a one-to-one basis to understand their personal circumstances and concerns and try to address these. For example, if they are worried about health and safety, share your updated Covid risk assessment and explain the measures you are taking. Be clear on the business reasons for office working such as client need or regulatory requirements.

Surveys consistently show that most staff want to work in a hybrid way. Offer the choice of part-time in the office, if you can. Be open-minded to being flexible and look to find a compromise which meets business needs but gives staff an element of choice and variety about where and when they work. This is quickly becoming a pre-requisite in what now seems to be an employee-led market.

Emphasise the wellbeing and career benefits of returning such as in-person learning opportunities, face-to-face collaboration with colleagues, networking opportunities and training. Just be careful not to discriminate against people that aren’t in the office – you can trip up on this even by applying generl policies that reward staff for coming in.

Subject to the above, a free breakfast, coffee break cakes, a lunchtime yoga class, an interesting evening speaker or subsidised social events are just some positive ways to draw staff back. If budgets allow, consider subsidising commuting and / or food costs for a limited period.

Is your office environment as welcoming as it could be? Could you make the workspace more like home with break-out areas, collaboration space, plants and soft furnishings? How about secure storage and locker rooms with showers for those coming in by bike?   

Crucially, will employees think you’ve applied your mind to what the functions of being together physically actually are, and have you communicated these properly? List the reasons you really need people together and structure your hybrid plan around those.


Staff have the legal right to make a formal request for flexible working. These requests need to be handled in a fair and reasonable way within three months. Requests can only be turned down for defined reasons such as additional costs. 


If your reluctant returner has a disability, or are looking after someone who has, you must make reasonable adjustments to help get them back to the office.

If all else fails, consider disciplinary action. But be sure you can articulate the reasons for needing the individual back and have considered all the options for compromise with them first.  Follow your procedure carefully and be aware of the risk of a discrimination or unfair dismissal claim if things go wrong. 

Whether you need help getting your staff back to the office or want to put inplace a new hybrid working model, we can help. Please get in touch if you have any questions or need help implementing your changes. 

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