GM delays return-to-office mandate after worker backlash

General Motors CEO Mary Barra speaks to reporters while awaiting the arrival of President Joe Biden on media day at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan September 14, 2022.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

DETROIT — General Motors is conducting damage control related to its plans to return to the office after a message to employees Friday afternoon sparked backlash and confusion.

The company’s senior leadership team said Friday that starting later this year, the company’s employees will be required to return to physical locations at least three days a week, in what the company says is an evolution of its current remote work policies.

On Tuesday, a second message followed up on that timing and clarified that the company won’t be dictating specific days in the office, instead leaving that decision up to individual teams.

“Our plan has always been, and still is, to design together the solution that best balances the needs of the company with the needs of each of you,” read the memo, which was shared by CEO Mary Barra and other executives was signed and a copy of which was viewed by CNBC.

The follow-up news says no employees will have to return to offices earlier than the first quarter of next year.

“While we have nurtured a highly collaborative culture during a very challenging time over the past two years, the intangible benefits of working face-to-face will be a critical success factor as we enter an era of rapid go-to-market,” the Tuesday news said. “This evolution is about being ready for the next phase of our transformation.”

A GM spokesman confirmed the message’s authenticity and said it wanted to “provide more clarity to help address some of the questions and concerns we’ve received.” She said the timing of her return to office has shifted, but “the overall plan hasn’t really changed.”

Both messages are a marked departure from the automaker’s flexible “work appropriately” rules announced by Barra and lauded by the company in April 2021. GM described it as a flexible, evolving policy that will vary by employee, week, and project.

GM apologized Tuesday for the timing of the original message and its vagueness. Executives said the earlier notice was sent after some information about the company’s plan was prematurely shared with some departments.

“We decided to communicate company-wide before we had the opportunity to work more broadly on the implementation plan. We believe the benefits of transparency — even with suboptimal timing and incomplete details — outweighed the risk of generating suspicion by hearing the information second-hand,” the Tuesday message said.

GM said it would share more information late next month as the company intends to spend the “next few weeks continuing to listen to your feedback so that we incorporate it into our implementation plans.”

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