A little meditation and some ibuprofen may be just what the doctor ordered these days for many chief financial officers.

That’s because a large majority of them are concerned that a looming talent shortage linked to employees’ demands for remote work will curb their ability to meet their short-term strategic goals, according to a survey by consulting firm Grant Thornton.

About two-thirds (68 percent) of CFOs expect staff to look elsewhere for employment as more businesses begin requiring staff who have been working remotely because of the pandemic to return to the office, the study revealed.

The survey polled 239 CFOs and senior executives at companies with annual revenues ranging from $100 million to more than $1 billion.

The survey cites “rising tensions between what workers want now and companies’ desire to control rising employee costs.”

In addition, “companies are facing a new and different war for talent, one in which employees are reluctant to surrender increased flexibility gained during the pandemic and in which talent scarcities are giving them increase leverage as they consider their employment options.”

Squashing back-to-office plans

The survey also found that 56 percent of CFOs agree that attracting and retaining key talent will be the “most important human capital priority” for the next 12 months.

“There are clear indications that CFOs are concerned about the looming war for talent. Yet there are also conflicting messages on taking steps to actually fix it,” Tim Glowa, Grant Thornton principal of human capital services, said in the study. “A third of organizations are saying people are expected to be back in the office. That’s inconsistent with the data on what employees are looking for.”

What’s prompting business leaders to call workers back to the office? Concerns over productivity, Grant Thornton says. Those concerns may be unwarranted, as many human-resource professionals have reported a jump in output since the shift to remote work.

“Data has shown that productivity increased dramatically,” said Angela Nalwa, managing director of HR transformation at Grant Thornton. “If employers had used key performance indicators to measure productivity, they would have found that people were taking short breaks here and there, but were ultimately working harder and being more effective.”

In addition to staff-retention concerns, 32 percent of CFOs also expects company real-estate costs to climb because of expenses related to making offices safer, such as by adding better ventilation equipment, the survey found.

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