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GM walks back return-to-office plans amid employee pushback

General Motors reverses its decision on return-to-office requirements as employees argue for increased flexibility in an uncertain job market.

Video transcript

DAVE BRIGGS: My play is General Motors throwing return-to-office plans in straight reverse. On Friday, GM announced plans to bring corporate workers back to physical locations at least three days per week later this year. After significant backlash from employees though, today, they walked back that plan, saying they won't be mandating specific in-office days, and they'll leave that up to the individual teams. GM said it will announce further updates by the end of next month after spending the next few weeks, quote, "continuing to listen to feedback."

Now, Ford, on the other hand, has also updated its return policy, recently emphasizing their increased flexibility is what they think is a real advantage in hiring top talent. Shares of GM down more than 40% year to date and down today just about 1%. Were down much bigger earlier on.

Overall, part of a much bigger discussion on return-to-office plans. And, clearly, right now, Rachelle, it looks like a tight labor market is going to win out because all these companies get out there; they announce these plans, and then they slowly walk them back over backlash. And that looks to be the deal until a recession, if a recession hits, and then we might see everyone return to office.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: I mean, it's true. Because we've seen the stick method, where they try and force you to come back. We've tried the carrot method, where they'll include all kinds of perks. They're like, oh, do you want to play pickleball? Do you want to do this?

But, at the end of the day, from the surveys that I've seen from different work-from-home surveys, the main reason that people aren't coming back is because they have a lack of compelling reason to want to come back physically, if they're seeing that they're just as productive outside of the office. They're trying to find a reason to have to come back. And WFH Research actually found that just 49% of [? employees ?] who told them they had to return to the office full time, five days a week actually ended up turning up.

So you can't really like reprimand or fire people in a labor market this type once you've really invested in them. So I don't think this is changing any time soon, until, as you mentioned, recession hits and the job losses become more severe and people really have to think twice about it. But at least for now, it does seem to be in the employee's favor, Seana.

SEANA SMITH: I don't know. It could happen much sooner than we think if we do start hitting some of those unemployment projections that the Fed has said we certainly will see. They think we will see a slowdown in the labor market, in the jobs market. So, of course, that would give management at some of these companies an upper hand, because employees won't have too many options at least to go elsewhere for the time being.

I still think this whole return-to-office saga, how it's playing out, is interesting to me, because it makes sense to be back in the office. I get the whole hybrid schedule. I get that maybe you only want to be back two or three days a week. That makes a lot of sense. But being back in the office is much more productive I think team-wise than everyone working from home, just in terms of the culture, building relationships, being able to have those one-off conversations, especially with your manager.

That doesn't happen as often when you are working from home, at least when we were working from home for some time before we came back to the studio. So I think there is a reason-- I do think these managers have a point here in trying to get their workers back to the office, Dave.

DAVE BRIGGS: And, also, don't factor the-- the sideline deals. And I'm not just talking about big deals that are made like at conferences, but what happens on the sideline-- whether it's after work, getting a beer-- makes a huge amount of difference. Unfortunately, we can't have a debate here. We all kind of agree.

Rachelle, get back in office. All right?

SEANA SMITH: I know. Rachelle, you gotta move up--

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Hey--

SEANA SMITH: --here to New York.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Half the people say no thanks. So what can you do?