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Remote workers are clinging to work-from-home jobs, even if they aren’t that happy

Jackie, MeganJackie (left) and Megan both work remotely and can’t imagine going back to work in an office.

Jackie, Megan

  • Joe, 37, is torn between leaving his job and clinging to the flexibility of remote work.
  • Many remote workers like him have gotten used to the WFH lifestyle, and built lives around it.
  • With remote job openings tapering off, more remote workers may be inclined to stay put.

Joe is feeling torn. 

The 37-year-old has worked remotely as a marketing manager for five years, but he’s been growing “increasingly frustrated” with his job, he told Insider. His last name was excluded for privacy reasons.

“I feel undervalued and overworked, and my boss doesn’t seem to appreciate my efforts,” he said, adding that his job is “demanding” and often requires “long hours” and frequent travel. 

“I have been considering leaving my job, but the thought of losing the flexibility of remote work has made me hesitant,” he said.

Working remotely has allowed him to have a better work-life balance and save money on commuting costs. While he’s tried searching for other remote opportunities, he says most positions he’s found have either not matched his skill set or would come with a pay cut.

“As a result, I have been staying in my job, feeling unfulfilled and underappreciated, but still valuing the flexibility of remote work,” he said.

Joe is based in the United Kingdom, but his story is reflective of the question many Americans who work remotely are wrestling with: Is it worth staying at a job I don’t love to keep the perks of remote work?

Even before the pandemic, remote workers tended to be happier and stay at their jobs longer than on-site workers. After the share of US full-time work conducted from home peaked at roughly 60% in 2020, researchers continued to find a correlation between remote work and satisfied employees. Many US workers have even said they’d be willing to take a pay cut to continue working remotely

In addition to the improved work-life balance, some workers are eager to keep their remote roles because they’ve used their flexibility to move to an area with a lower cost of living — and fewer non-remote job opportunities. Others are using remote work as a way to cut back on childcare costs

But with the number of remote job postings declining, workers like Joe may have to decide whether it’s worth staying in a job they don’t love to retain the benefits of remote work. 

As of March, roughly 13% of job postings were remote, according to the staffing firm Manpower Group, down from 17% in March 2022 but up from the pre-pandemic level of 4%. The share of remote postings could fall to 10% by the end of 2023, Stanford economist and leading work-from-home researcher Nick Bloom told Insider. 

—Nick Bloom (@I_Am_NickBloom) March 11, 2023

 

“Employees in the US still want fully-remote roles but these are shrinking,” Bloom said, pointing to the businesses that have called employees back to the office at least a few days per week or moved some remote roles abroad

“As a result, if you currently have a remote role, it will be harder to find another fully remote role in the US, so I can see lock-in,” he added.

While layoffs in the US remain low relative to historical norms, white-collar workers, many of whom hold remote positions, have borne the brunt of them. This reality, in addition to the tapering off of remote job openings and the fierce competition for those that remain, are among the reasons remote workers were 32% more likely to feel anxious about layoffs, according to a HUMU study of over 80,000 employees released in February.  

“I would not consider taking a non-remote job in the future”

While Joe says he would consider an in-person job under the right conditions, not everyone is so flexible. 

Jackie, a Louisiana-based 32-year-old who says she used remote work to make a career change without having to relocate and “uproot her family,” told Insider the flexibility of remote work has had an “amazing positive impact” on her mental health and that she’s satisfied with her current job.

“I’ve had more free time in my day to devote to my own personal and career growth,” she said, adding, “I would not consider taking a non-remote job in the future.”

Megan, a 28-year-old mom who works part-time remotely so she can bring in an income and save money on childcare, told Insider it would be “very hard” for her to take an in-person role if she ever wanted to make a job switch. 

“I don’t know of many remote opportunities so I would definitely be more inclined to stick out my current position even if I stopped liking the work,” she said. 

To be sure, many experts say remote work isn’t going anywhere, and some data suggests job postings haven’t fallen off much at all. And even if fully remote positions become more rare, Bloom predicts that in the long-run, roughly half of all jobs will be hybrid, providing workers at least some flexibility. 

Plus, some remote workers have come to decide that in-person jobs are the best fit for them, Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, told Insider.

“There are many people that are speaking to us and saying, ‘I want to be in the office,'” he said. 

“They like camaraderie,” he added. “They like to be part of a team, and they want to understand the organization’s culture a little bit more and be part of that culture, because it is hard to transfer through a remote setting.”

Meanwhile, workers — remote and in-person alike — face the difficult decision of whether to stick it out at a job with which they aren’t thrilled as layoffs pick up in some sectors, Daniel Zhao, a Glassdoor economist, told Insider. 

“This idea of ‘remote handcuffs’ is the same situation all workers are facing as the labor market cools,” he said. “All workers are having to evaluate whether they’re willing to stomach their current job’s imperfections as the pool of alternatives starts to shrink.”

The ability to apply to any remote position is also a huge advantage for job seekers, even as postings decline. 

“Before the pandemic, a job seeker living in Bozeman, Montana would be limited to local jobs,” Zhao said, “but now, that same job seeker has access to remote jobs from all over the country.”

Are you a remote worker who’s struggling to decide whether to leave your job and willing to share your story? If so, reach out to this reporter at jzinkula@insider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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