The real reason your boss enjoys the office

Robert Thompson
Stoic Gazette
Published in
2 min readDec 19, 2021

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Photo by Surface on Unsplash

The purpose of an office is to bring people together. Instead, they’ve become a source of division. There are two types of employees:

  • those who eagerly anticipate reuniting with colleagues in person, and establishing clearer boundaries between home and work, and
  • those who see mandatory office attendance as an unnecessary health risk and waste of time commuting.

From a stoic viewpoint, we must accept that we cannot control other people’s preferences and actions, only our own reactions and judgments. As Epictetus stated,

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

Many factors influence which perspective an employee adopts, but seniority appears salient. Generally speaking, executives are more enthusiastic about returning than individual contributors. Cynics would argue this reflects executives’ preference for the status symbols of office life. More charitably, leaders may genuinely believe in-person collaboration benefits the organization and employees, perhaps because it facilitated their own career success. Either way, their position makes them less likely to objectively assess the pros and cons of office work. As Marcus Aurelius wrote,

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Truthfully, a hybrid arrangement seems probable going forward. Leaders should focus on optimizing both the virtual and physical environments. However, most return-to-office plans have been dictated from the top down with minimal input from employees. This apparent indifference to employees’ preferences and working styles hardly promotes organizational cohesion and alignment. As stoics would advise, leaders should thoughtfully reflect on what is within their control — creating supportive company cultures and policies — rather than fixating on what they cannot control, namely employees’ personal preferences. With equanimity and wisdom, leaders can make office life more appealing, productive, and harmonious for all. As Seneca counseled,

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

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