Thanks for the Job. But No Thanks.

A third of workers in a new survey say they would turn down an offer for an in-office job. How that changes the recruiting calculus for those hiring—and those looking.

The offered salary was above the role’s market rate. The company also had a very trendy unlimited vacation-time policy as well as an impressive benefits package. But the team leader wanted someone in the office five days a week, and that was a deal breaker.

Never mind relocating for a job—now many people aren’t willing to accept an offer that requires them to work in an office full-time. In a new survey, more than one-third of workers say they have declined or would decline a job offer that required them to work full-time in an office or other worksite. It’s yet another pandemic-inspired tug-of-war between employees and employers, suggesting that a sizable percentage of people believe any job can be done remotely and are willing to reject companies who think otherwise. The mismatched expectations set the stage “for a lot of awkward job negotiations” as businesses continue to ramp up recruiting for imminent reopenings, says Dan Kaplan, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Chief Human Resources Officers practice.

Kaplan says some organizations are going to condition offers on being in the office five days a week—and if a prospective candidate doesn’t find that acceptable, the company will move on to another. Similarly, he expects that highly skilled, in-demand talent, whose jobs weren’t in jeopardy and who were, in fact, still being heavily recruited throughout the worst days of the pandemic, will condition accepting offers on working remotely at least two days a week. And if companies don’t accept that, they will move on as well. “I expect a lot of stalemates,” Kaplan says.

Experts say the rise of remote work creates an entirely new calculus for employers when it comes to job negotiations. To be sure, while many companies have embraced the idea of remote work, many others have not. And even within those companies that have adopted remote work, there are still some roles, particularly at the executive level, that they want primarily on-site.

Andy De Marco, Korn Ferry’s vice president of human resources for the Americas, says over the last year, companies have been going through each and every role and categorizing them to help set expectations up front and avoid precisely these kinds of negotiations during the recruiting process. In a recent study, for instance, the real estate consulting firm CBRE broke down workforce roles into three distinct categories: anchor (full-time, in-office); flex (hybrid in-office and remote); and totally remote. “It’s hard work on the company to sort through all of that, but it saves time and avoids awkward situations during recruiting,” De Marco says.

Still, Kaplan says companies will have to decide what they are willing to sacrifice for those full-time, in-office roles. Would they forgo hiring their preferred candidate for a lesser one who is willing to come to the office, for instance? Or would they offer more compensation or other perks to entice the candidate of their choice to work on-site?

For their part, employees will have to decide what kind of premium they place on being able to work remotely. Experts say a candidate who is willing to come to the office five days a week could gain an advantage over one who isn’t, after all. Or circumstances could change—maybe being on-site full-time would be more appealing after getting vaccinated and sending the kids back to school. As Linda Hyman, Korn Ferry’s executive vice president of global human resources, says, it’s important for both sides to have flexibility and not be so rigid. “It’s still a feeling-out process,” she says.