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Musk’s Office Mandate, Recession Fears Complicate New Work Era

  • Hiring freezes, layoffs could shift power back to employers
  • Companies struggle to find right balance with hybrid schedules
An office worker on California Street in the financial district of San Francisco, California.

An office worker on California Street in the financial district of San Francisco, California.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Many bosses have longed for some leverage to prod more workers back to the office. Recession worries, a rash of hiring freezes and a broadside from the world’s richest person may have just made it easier. 

For more than two years, millions of white-collar workers at companies from Apple Inc. to American Express Co. have grown accustomed to greater flexibility in where and when they work, and a red-hot labor market has given them license to push back on pleas from CEOs to return to their pre-pandemic office routine. Now, recession fears have clouded companies’ outlooks, prompting some to curtail hiring or wage hikes while others slash jobs, revealing early signs of a leveling playing field between employees and employers.