How return-to-office mandates could impact diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I)

5 min read | Dan Robertson | Article | | DE&I

How return-to-office mandates could impact dei

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the vast majority of us worked fully in-office – nobody knew or expected any different. It wasn’t until the first lockdown thrust the nation into remote working that employees felt the benefits of no early morning commutes, more time with their families and a better work-life balance. Then came hybrid working: a happy medium for many employees and employers alike. 

Now, with almost two-thirds (63%) of UK CEOs predicting a full-time return-to-office by 2026, it seems we’re rapidly moving towards yet another “new normal.” However, there could be some drawbacks to these strict mandates that employers should be considering before making such changes. Namely, an 5-day-a-week RTO mandate could potentially negatively impact diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace. 


Hybrid working is a disproportionate must-have for some

For many of us, hybrid working is a nice-to-have benefit, but for others, work may be a real challenge, if not impossible, without it. Almost two-fifths (37%) of carers say hybrid working is essential and that they would have to look for another job if that were no longer an option. The same can be said for one-third (33%) of disabled employees and working parents, as well as 32% who have a mental health condition, according to one of our previous Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Report


The challenges of a full-time return-to-office for underrepresented groups 

Working parents: The UK has the third highest childcare costs in the world. For some working parents, being able to work partially from home is a financial lifeline, meaning they don’t need to pay for fulltime nursery – which is an average setback of £285.31 each week for a child under the age of two.

Neurodivergent employees: Noisy, open plan offices can be overwhelming for some neurodivergent people. Working from home gives them the option to be in an environment that’s less stimulating, enabling them to work more productively and comfortably. Taking this benefit away could prove to be detrimental to some neurodivergent employees’ performance and workplace happiness . 

People from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds: With one-third (34%) of the UK now living paycheque to paycheque, the additional outgoings required for a full-time return-to-office won’t be feasible for everyone. Some people may not live close to their workplace, especially if they’ve historically been allowed to work remotely or mostly from home. Without the possibility of home working, they’ll be left with two options: take on the financial burden of daily commutes or move closer to their office, which may not be in an affordable area given housing prices and increased interest rates on mortgages

Disabled workers: A return-to-office may present a variety of challenges and accessibility barriers for people with disabilities. One study found that 85% of disabled employees think they work more productively at home, while 70% believe their physical or mental health would be negatively impacted if they were no longer able to work remotely. The disability employment gap has widened over the past decade, and it could be set to worsen further as remote working declines. 

The list goes on: women, the global ethnic majority, LGBTQ+ people and older workers are all disproportionately more likely to face barriers when it comes to returning to the office full-time. 


For further hiring insights, including tips on how to successfully embed flexible working and ensure working arrangements are inclusive for all, take a look at the video below:



RTO mandates could fuel inequity 

There are already diversity gaps within leadership roles in the UK – women account for less than a third (30%) of managerial roles and 4% of CEO positions, for example. Unfortunately, this gap could be set to widen further, with over four-fifths (83%) of CEOs saying they’re more likely to reward employees who make an effort to come into the office with more desirable tasks, pay rises and promotions. Top bosses should tread carefully when it comes to this favourable treatment, as it could result in inequity for those demographics who face more barriers with working in the office every day. 

So, rather than enforcing a company-wide, full-time back-to-office policy, instead consider a more flexible, case-by-case approach – one that will likely work in support of your DE&I agenda.

Want to discover how we can help you build a more equitable and inclusive hiring strategy? Get in contact today to leverage our leading market intelligence, powerful technology, and expert consultation.


About this author

Dan Robertson, Vercida - Client Partner

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