Jacob Rees-Mogg’s insistence that civil servants return to the office will backfire

·5-min read
Ready to return to work? (Getty/iStock)
Ready to return to work? (Getty/iStock)

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new directive that civil servants must cease to work from home and return to offices with immediate effect has prompted dismay among staff and unions.

The Conservative minister has written to cabinet colleagues calling on them to oversee the “rapid return” of staff to their workplaces.

He instructed ministers to send a “clear message” to civil servants on the importance of returning to offices and circulated a league table of staff attendance, adding that he would visit departments with lower attendance figures to “ensure we are making the efficient use of the central London estate”.

And on Monday night, The Telegraph reported that Whitehall sources accused civil servants who were reluctant to return to the office of “failing to pull their weight”.

Rees-Mogg’s comments come despite widespread support for flexible working from unions and workers, and increased productivity as a consequence of working from home policies.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect union which is involved with civil servant workers, said in January that he “will not be taking lectures on hard work from someone whose definition of a work event appears to involve cheese, wine and a garden,” in reference to the Partygate controversy surrounding Downing Street employees’ lockdown behaviour.

Rees-Mogg’s mandate reveals a rigid approach to work firmly at odds with the changing nature of contemporary employment

He added: “To suggest that staff have not been working hard whilst working from home is a nonsense not borne out by the facts. Working hours have increased – and in fact many staff feel they have been ‘living at work’ with increased levels of stress and burnout.”

Rees-Mogg’s mandate reveals a rigid approach to work firmly at odds with the changing nature of contemporary employment.

Multiple studies have shown that productivity has actually improved as a result of homeworking, with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), a professional body for HR and people development, stating that both the government and organisations should make “the right to request flexible working a day-one right for all employees”.

The suggestion that such an approach may result in happier and healthier employees is sharply dismissed by more traditional employers, however.

A study by the Office for National Statistics revealed that commuting to work makes you unhappy and anxious, with the worst effects of travelling associated with journey times of between an hour and 90 minutes.

“Holding all else equal, commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters,” the report said.

Rather than spending their waking hours crushed inside a packed train carriage, many workers have reported using this time for exercise, creativity or catching 40 more winks, all activities that promote better mental health, an improved work/life balance, and increase the likelihood of you being a happier, healthier employee.

A recent US study found that more than 50 per cent of workers polled would rather quit than return to the office full time

Bosses unwilling to grasp this concept may well find such an approach counterproductive when burnt-out staff start voting with their feet, resulting in high staff turnover; a recent US study found that more than 50 per cent of workers polled would rather quit than return to the office full time.

And it’s not just about making time for self-care. Many workers, particularly women, have caring responsibilities for children or relatives. Working from home offers them time to undertake such duties, plus the flexibility to collect, drop off and make time for any dependents.

Many neurodiverse staff who have long struggled with concentration in busy, open-plan offices are also flourishing in quieter, more familiar surroundings.

And with TUC research revealing that nearly a third of people have been bullied at work, space away from office politics can be the difference between staying in a job or choosing to leave.

The insistence on round-the-clock surveillance by overzealous bosses speaks volumes about a questionable leadership style lacking in conviction which reflects on, and filters down to, all staff working below

Of the many jobs I’ve held over the years, the best ones have, unsurprisingly, been characterised by mutual respect and trust. Bosses who treat you like the responsible adult you are, rather than a mischievous teenager whose aim is to swindle the company, largely reap better results in terms of both productivity and improved interpersonal relations.

Being trusted to do something – whether that’s working from home, or handling money – tends to appeal to the part of our personality that seeks reward, prompting you to rise to the occasion, rather than looking for ways to exploit or abuse a person’s faith. For me, the insistence on round-the-clock surveillance by overzealous bosses speaks volumes about a questionable leadership style lacking in conviction which reflects on, and filters down to, all staff working below.

While there are doubtless benefits to in-person working, especially for new members of staff getting to grips with new processes and colleagues, there are countless advantages to working from home.

A more flexible approach to working also means a larger pool of staff to draw from and a move away from urban centres, which have previously dominated many industries, such as the media. Smart bosses should recognise increased diversity, including geographical, as a good thing for business.

The pandemic has changed people’s lives irreversibly and, for many people, this includes their approach to work. Employers seeking to impose a three-line whip upon staff may find such a dogged manner only succeeds in breeding resentment and dissatisfaction. Work has changed – and employers who choose to ignore this may end up doing so at their peril.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting