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Is Raul Vargas worse than Putin?

Yes, but I don't think he's worse than Stalin.

BTW, wouldn't you love to kick that smug little prick in the nuts?

A New CEO Says Employees Can’t Work Remotely After All, and They Revolt

After insurer Farmers Group told staff last year they would be remote, some sold cars or moved to new cities

By Peter Grant, WSJ

Updated June 6, 2023 11:18 am ET

Farmers Group Chief Executive Raul Vargas sees in-office work as a driver of collaboration, creativity and innovation.

After insurance-industry company Farmers Group told employees last year that most of them would be remote workers, many made significant lifestyle changes in response to the policy. Some sold their cars, others expanded home offices or moved their families to new cities.

Then last month, Raul Vargas, who recently took over as chief executive, said he was reversing the approach. He would require the majority of Farmers employees to be in the office three days a week.

That decision sparked worker outrage. More than 2,000 comments have been posted on Farmers employees’ internal social-media platform, most of which were negative or crying and angry emojis, according to postings viewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with employees.

Some workers said on the internal social network that they are prepared to quit their jobs. Others have called for unionizing.

“I was hired as a remote worker and was promised that was the company culture moving forward,” a worker who specializes in medical claims posted. “This is seemingly a power move that is frankly disgusting.”

Another employee in the claims division wrote: “I sold my house and moved closer to my grandkids. So sad that I made a huge financial decision based on a lie.”

In an email to employees viewed by the Journal, Vargas explained his decision, saying he believed in the importance of in-office work for “collaboration, creativity and innovation.”

The company will have “the opportunity to combine the best of both worlds—all that we’ve gained from flexible and virtual work with all the teamwork and collaboration we get when we work together in the office,” Vargas said.

A Farmers spokeswoman said the new system will include about 60% of the company’s U.S. workforce of about 22,000 employees. She pointed out that the announced policy wouldn’t go into effect until September, giving workers three months to adjust and make arrangements.

Farmers believes that as business conditions change, “so must business approaches,” the spokeswoman said. Employees said the shift is unfair because they made life decisions based on statements made by the company that the remote policy would be permanent.

More than 2,000 comments have been recently posted on Farmers Group’s employee internal social-media platform in response to the company’s return-to-office push.

The uproar at Los Angeles-based Farmers represents an emerging tension point in the return-to-office saga. New management teams are imposing stricter workplace policies on employees who counted on more-flexible work regimens being permanent. Chief executives Robert Iger at Walt Disney Co. and David Risher at Lyft also have faced pushback from some employees after recently announcing stricter office policies.

Office landlords applaud these decisions. They see the return-to-office push by new bosses as a crucial step toward reversing the slide in rent prices, occupancy levels and property values.

But the reaction by Farmers’ workforce shows the determination by many employees to resist these efforts. While the pushback is most intense against companies trying to restore the five days a week in the office, hybrid workplace strategies have also triggered protests, petitions, walkouts and other harsh employee responses, say corporate recruiters and human-resources executives.

In Seattle last week, hundreds of workers held a lunchtime demonstration against the company’s policy returning employees to the office three days a week. New York City Mayor Eric Adams also said last week that thousands of employees at city agencies would be allowed to work remotely twice a week, departing from the previous policy requiring them to be in the office five days after workers complained.

Many employees see mandates to be in the office even three or four days a week as “a betrayal of trust,” said Dan Kaplan, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry, one of the world’s largest recruiting firms. “You said I wouldn’t have to do that. We’re just as productive,” he said of the worker perspective. “Why should that have to change?”

With the job market tight, businesses are taking these reactions seriously. In an April survey by Korn Ferry, 72% of workers said they would choose a job with a lower salary if it offered flexibility to work from home, while 58% said going back to the office would have a negative impact on their mental health.

On the other hand, in some industries, most companies are adopting hybrid workplace policies, limiting the workers’ ability to switch jobs to continue working from home. Insurance is one of these. In May, 52% of insurance companies had mandated hybrid arrangements, up from 34% in February, according to Scoop Technologies, a software firm that developed an index monitoring workplace strategies of close to 4,500 companies.

Under Farmers’ former CEO Jeff Dailey, the company told workers during the pandemic in 2022 that most of them would be classified as virtual employees. Farmers also told employees it would try to lease out or sell some of its office space in Grand Rapids, Mich., Kansas City, Kan., Oklahoma City and Phoenix, according to employees.

Farmers managers said under previous leadership that coming into the office was voluntary. Employees said that they were told that productivity equaled or exceeded prepandemic levels.

“We have specific declarations made by leadership at every level that this was to be a permanent change, based precisely on the better outcomes we had from fully remote work,” said an employee on Farmers’ internal social network.

Complaints on the internal social-media platform included those from workers who said they decided to home-school their children and take care of elderly relatives based on the assumption they could keep working from home.

The day after the outpouring of criticism, Vargas sent out another companywide email, according to employees. “It said: ‘We read all your comments. We understand and we appreciate them. But we’re still moving forward,’” one Farmers employee said.

Write to Peter Grant at

Copyright ©2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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