Email woes cause billionaire Jim Ratcliffe to mandate Manchester United staff back to office

Earlier this year, the second-richest man in the United Kingdom, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, was confirmed as the team’s co-owner earlier this year, and he’s coming in guns blazing (even though he’s no Arsenal fan). And his latest offensive move is ushering employees back to the office, according to an exclusive from The Guardian

Ratcliffe’s main motivator for getting everyone back to the pitch was a dip in email traffic, Manchester United staff told The Guardian. While the company has had a flexible schedule since the pandemic hit, Ratcliffe took issue with the 20% decrease in traffic on remote-mostly Fridays. He’s laying down the law in no uncertain terms, adding that staff should look for other options if they’re not able or willing to stop working from home. 

“If you don’t like it, please seek ­alternative employment,” he said in last week’s meeting. 

He’s not the only billionaire to take advantage of a tight labor market when trying to gain the upper hand. JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon made headlines last year for saying he understands why some people might not want to come in three days a week but they “can not do it elsewhere.”

Of course, Ratcliffe’s mandate has been met with ambivalence, as The Athletic reports the memo “received mixed reviews, with some staff members energised by Ineos’ desire to shake things up, while others will have their life-work balance inconvenienced by the diktat,” adding that Ratcliffe is looking to bring his new investment in line with the fully in-office policy of his own company, Ineos. Ratcliffe also sent an email to staff last week about how the office was a mess, calling its state a “disgrace.” 

While a group has been instructed to handle the logistics of this return to the office, some employees noted the club is not big enough to host everyone, according to The Guardian

This is not the first time an executive’s in-person ambitions did not match up to their staffing. After Elon Musk mandated Tesla employees back to the office, reports of not enough parking spots or desks to go around cropped up. Companies are going through growing pains when trying to figure out what a hybrid office looks like, adds management consulting company Korn Ferry.

While hybrid work has emerged as the preferred post-pandemic route for most employees, according to a survey from Morning Consult, the verdict is still out as to whether remote work has led to greater productivity or not, as some studies show they cut down on commuting and lead to more hours put in, while other surveys say workers are less distracted in the office. The linking of working from home and a dip in productivity might be off-base to begin with, as a 2023 report from Goldman Sachs found that productivity “simply tends to fall over time.”

One thing is clear: Schedule autonomy is still attractive for many job seekers. After receiving some pushback from their employees, executives have started to loosen up a bit. This year, only a third of CEOs surveyed by KPMG foresee a full return to the office by 2026, which is down from 62% the prior year.