Apple, SpaceX, and Microsoft lost top employees because they had to go back to work.

Return-to-office demands at Apple, SpaceX, and Microsoft resulted in senior personnel leaving the companies.


According to a study that looked at Apple, Microsoft, and SpaceX, forcing employees to go back to work (RTO) can cause more of them to leave, especially senior-level workers, often to work for rivals.

Researchers from the Universities of Chicago and Michigan put out the study (PDF) this month, and The Washington Post wrote about it on Sunday.

These were “260 million resumes matched to company data” from People Records Labs, which was used in the study. The report only looked at three companies, but Apple, Microsoft, and SpaceX are responsible for 30% of the tech industry’s income and more than 2% of its workforce, according to the report’s writers. The three businesses have also had an impact on setting RTO norms for companies other than their own. Robert Ployhart, a scholar at the Academy of Management and professor of business administration and management at the University of South Carolina, told the Post that the study’s results are a good representation of the effects of RTO policies in the US as a whole, even though they only looked at three companies.

Taken together, our results imply that return to office grants can imply marked human capital costs in terms of work, productivity, innovation, and competitiveness for the companies that enforce them,” the study says.

The number of Apple employees who are considered senior dropped by 5 percentage points after the company implemented its RTO policy, which lets workers do some of their work from home. A drop of 5 percentage points was seen at Microsoft, which also used a hybrid RTO method that let employees work from home if their boss gave permission. SpaceX, on the other hand, needs workers to be in an office full-time. The study found that after the order, its share of senior-level workers dropped by 15%.

An assistant professor of public policy at the University of Chicago named Austin Wright, who wrote the report, told the Post, “We find experienced employees impacted by these policies at main tech companies seek work elsewhere, bringing some of the most helpful human capital assets and means of productivity with them.”

Christopher Myers, an associate professor of management and organization health at Johns Hopkins University, told the Post that the loss of senior employees might be linked to the low mood caused by RTO rules, saying that “it’s easier to manage a team that’s happy.”

Subject of debate

With the end of COVID-19’s limits, it’s not clear if requiring workers to work in an office again is necessary or good for businesses. In the US, about 75% of tech companies are thought to be “fully flexible,” according to a study from 2023. Kastle Systems, a company that provides controlled security services, says it looks at “keycard, fob and KastlePresence app access data across 2,600 buildings and 41,000 businesses.” The Post, on the other hand, says that the US’s biggest metro areas have an average of 51% office occupancy.

Microsoft and SpaceX both refused to say anything about the study from researchers at the Universities of Chicago and Michigan. The report’s author, Josh Rosenstock, told The Washington Post that it came to “inaccurate conclusions” and “does not reflect the realities of our business.” It was said that “attrition is at historically low levels.”

Still, some businesses have had trouble getting workers who have been doing their jobs well at home for months to want to come back to the office. Dell, Amazon, Google, Meta, and JPMorgan Chase have all kept track of how often workers swipe their badges to make sure they are coming into the office on time. Dell has also begun keeping an eye on VPN use this week and has told full-time online workers that they can’t get promoted.

Some business leaders are sure that the ability to create can be harmed by letting employees work from home. On the other hand, some study shows that RTO requirements don’t help businesses. A March poll of 18,000 Americans found that having open work hours is good for mental health. And in February, a study of 457 S&P 500 companies found that RTO rules hurt employee happiness and don’t make the companies more valuable.

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