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Tech executives don’t care about losing senior employees because they don’t have to.

🔗 Faced with RTO mandates, some top tech talent left instead - The Washington Post:

Researchers drew on resume data from People Data Labs to understand the impact that forced returns to offices had on employee tenure, and the movement of workers between companies. What they found was a strong correlation between senior-level employees departing directly after a mandate was implemented, suggesting these policies “had a negative effect on the tenure and seniority of their respective workforce.” High-ranking employees stayed several months less than they might have without the mandate, the research suggests — and in many cases, they went to work for direct competitors.

At Microsoft, the share of senior employees as a portion of the company’s overall workforce declined more than 5 percentage points after the return-to-office mandate took effect, the researchers found. At Apple, the decline was 4 percentage points, while at SpaceX — the only company of the three to require workers to be fully in-person — the share of senior employees dropped 15 percentage points.

Those findings are not super-surprising. I also find myself wondering how much the companies actually care.

Employees with a lot of seniority—especially those that are US-based—are generally the most expensive employees. While I may believe that the experience and skills they take with them are exactly the stuff these companies need for long-term competitiveness and sustainability, my strong suspicion is that those factors are less important to these companies than short-term margins and growth.

Like consumers buying the cheapest item at the top of the Amazon search results because it will likely be good enough and can be replaced quickly and easily replaced if not, companies are looking for the low-cost, commoditized labor that will allow them to drive down expenses in the near term. That looks good to investors and the long-term negatives are easy to ignore or wave away.

My guess is that most companies are not deliberately issuing these return-to-office mandates specifically to push out senior employees. I don’t give them that much credit. More likely, it is a combination of old-school, control-freak senior executives afraid that people are goofing off if they’re not in the office every day, as well as irritation at costly real estate going to waste.

So no, I don’t think this is some moustache-twirling conspiracy. What I do think is that it falls into the “It’s a feature, not a bug” category and that we can push all the studies we want showing that RTO leads to talent loss but that the CEOs making these decisions do not and will not care.

As long as there remains a steady influx of cheap labor supply and no union protections in the tech sector, new waves of talent are going to keep applying for job postings. And as long as these companies are incentivized to focus exclusively on “shareholder value (i.e., short-term growth), none of them is likely to be convinced that they should care about retaining senior employees.

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