Frontier Airlines CEO thinks workers got “lazy” during the pandemic

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It isn’t just Tesla founder Elon Musk that thinks workers (or more specifically, remote workers) are “lazy”—Frontier Airlines chief executive, Barry Biffle, recently weighed in on the debate.

“We got lazy in COVID,” the budget airline boss complained at an investor conference hosted by Morgan Stanley on Wednesday. “I mean seriously, people are still allowing people to work from home. All this silliness, right? All that’s out the window.”

Like many businesses, Biffle said that Frontier Airlines is responding to dampened demand amid the economic slowdown by doubling down on cutting costs and boosting productivity—but, he insisted, his business woes reflect a “society-wide” phenomenon.

“We’re not alone in this. You hear every company out there talking about productivity challenges,” he added.

Without specifying what actions the company might take, Biffle, who has more than 20 years of aviation industry experience, outlined the issues currently facing his company: A dip in demand for domestic flights, increasing fuel costs, and more staff on payroll post-pandemic.

“When we look at overhead versus 2019 adjusted for capacity, it’s up dramatically,” Biffle said. “Why do I have more people per plane in overhead than I had in 2019? It’s because they’re not as productive.”

Frontier Airlines didn’t respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Not the first CEO to complain about post-pandemic productivity

Biffle is among a growing cohort of chiefs to voice their disdain for remote working and push for the return to more traditional work practices—in an office, five days a week—now that the pandemic has subsided.

“All the COVID stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard,” Elon Musk wrote on Twitter, now X, last year. 

The billionaire made it his first order of business to end Twitter’s “work from anywhere” policy when he took its helm. He has also taken the same approach at SpaceX and Tesla, where he wants workers in the office for at least 40 hours a week and has praised staff who work through the night “burning the 3 a.m. oil”.

Just last week, an Australian CEO similarly complained that workers’ insistence that they have earned the right to work from home, after around three years of doing so during the pandemic, is damaging the economy.

“Employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around,” Australian luxury real estate Gurner Group’s chief executive Tim Gurner, said at an Australian Financial Review conference.

“We’ve got to kill that attitude, and that has to come through hurting the economy,” he continued.

Even the staunchest supporters of remote working have seemingly changed their tune. Salesforce’s co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff and Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg both ditched their ultra-flexible work policies this year for RTO mandates. 

Why? Because employees who work in person “get more done”, according to Zuckerberg. Meanwhile, Benioff echoed that new staffers  “do better if they’re in the office”.

Are workers less productive from home? 

Employers across the globe have sounded the back-to-work klaxon in the name of productivity. In the U.K., the train ticket seller Trainline has seen a 23% jump in sales this year as more people commute to their desks. Meanwhile, some 1 million office workers have been ordered back to the office in the States. 

However, research has consistently shown that workers can be just as productive—if not more so—from home, than at a desk next to noisy peers. McKinsey analyzed 2,000 tasks and 800 job types and found that around a third of all work could be done remotely without any loss of productivity.

Still, there’s a discrepancy in how productive remote working is depending on who you ask: Employees generally think they’re more productive while working from home, but managers tend to disagree. This could be because, as reported in Fortune, workers add their commute into their mental calculation of how productive they are, whereas managers don’t.

For now, it seems employers and employees have found a happy medium: Although a whopping 90% of companies plan to implement return-to-office policies by the end of 2024, the share of companies requiring full-time office attendance is declining.

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