Seton Hall research: Employers, beware of broad return-to-office mandates … but, you might be surprised what younger workers think

Work life balance scales business and family lifestyle choice

A common narrative these days is that people need to return to the office and remote work hurts productivity. We often hear or see a report that yet another company is mandating a return-to-office policy. But what about how workers feel about return-to-work policies? Many employees see remote work as providing a good work-life balance, not affecting their ability to make an impact, and avoiding office politics, microaggressions, long commutes and so on.

What is the truth? It depends on whom you ask, and it may depend on your generational cohort.

The Seton Hall University Department of Management research team in the Stillman School of Business has released groundbreaking insights from its third annual “The Future of Leadership Survey: Insight and Foresight About the Future of Leadership from the Leaders of the Future, 2023.”

This year’s data includes responses from over 5,300 individuals and provides some surprising results on how many emerging leaders ages 18-30 are already going back to work at least three days a week, and who share that their own experiences yield that remote work doesn’t hurt leadership development. Great advice to offer today’s business leaders on what the emerging generation of leaders strongly believes and is looking for in terms of choosing careers and looking at work-life balance and mentorship.

Seton Hall’s survey team partnered with Atheneum to provide global outreach and collect the data points, surveying participants ages 18-30 from across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the European Union, China, Japan, Singapore and Nigeria.

The insights from 18- to 30-year-old emerging business leaders suggest that employers need to segment their workforce and devise policies and practices that are tailored to the expectations of different employee segments.

“The findings from the survey are intriguing,” Ruchin Kansal, professor of practice at Seton Hall, former senior executive and management consultant, and founder of Kansal & Co., said. “We find global convergence on how future leaders perceive what a leader looks like; what are their values, competencies and challenges; and that they want employers to invest in their leadership development. We also see convergence in sentiments around remote work, with respondents globally reporting less work to be remote and that it has not impacted productivity. Asia is the only region reporting a higher percentage of people engaged in remote work. At the same time, there are a few differences by region on expectations from leaders and employers, which would indicate that one approach does not fit all and customization of leadership development strategies is required by region.”

Key survey findings include:

  • Contrary to popular belief, the survey reveals that 18- to 30-year-olds don’t believe remote work has impeded leadership development. A significant 73.5% of respondents report being in the office at least 50% of the time, with the majority being in the office at least three days a week.
  • When asked how much they agree or disagree with statements related to job satisfaction, the highest agreement scores were for the following statements: “My work can make an impact,” and “I am loyal to my employer.” The respondents also agree with the statement: “I am satisfied with the time required to be in the office.” This would mean that the lack of remote work is not reported to be a primary cause of job dissatisfaction. Instead, the primary driver of job dissatisfaction globally is salary.
  • The emerging workforce is adapting well to a hybrid work environment and believes employers are providing them with good development opportunities. The data suggests that employers who align their policies with the preferences of this workforce can create a win-win scenario.

Dr. Karen Boroff, professor and dean emeritus at the Stillman School of Business, emphasizes that: “While the current narrative advocates a return to the office, the survey data indicates a substantial level of in-person presence among respondents. Employers will be well-served to make data-based decisions by segmenting their workforce when determining return-to-office policies. In fact, the same policies for all may hurt long-term talent retention. Practically speaking, ‘same policies’ may not be strategically sound for any organization and those that can be more elastic in their ways of guiding their respective teams may win the talent game.”

For the full report, click here.