Real-estate billionaire Stephen Ross says a recession would bring employees back to the office out of fear for their jobs

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  • Billionaire Stephen Ross said employees would return to offices if the US were to enter a recession.
  • Ross told Bloomberg people would do whatever it takes to keep their jobs in a downturn.
  • US office occupancy rate was 44% as of June 8, according to data from Kastle Systems.

Employees just might return to the office due to job security fears if the US enters a recession , real-estate tycoon Stephen Ross told Bloomberg.

“Employers have been somewhat hesitant because they didn’t want to lose their employees, but I think as you go into a recession and people fear that they might not have a job, that will bring people back to the office,” Ross told Bloomberg on Friday.

The US is grappling with a tight labor market, with an unemployment rate of 3.6% in May. There are now also fears of a coming recession after the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates by the biggest amount since 1994 to combat soaring inflation.

“The employees will recognize as we go into a recession, or as things get a little tighter, that you have to do what it takes to keep your job and to earn a living,” Ross told Bloomberg. 

Ross is the founder and chairman of Related Companies, the developer of the Time Warner Center and Hudson Yards in New York City. He has a net worth of about $8.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Ross’ comments come as corporate America continues the debate around bringing the workforce back to the office after two years of pandemic-induced remote work.

“Every executive recognizes that people need to work together,” Ross said. “You have to train your workforce and educate them and you work as a team. You don’t work as individuals.”

Employees are still not coming back to the office in force. Office occupancy rate in the US was 44% as of June 8, according to data from Kastle Systems, an office security firm. That’s the highest rate since the pandemic started, but still far from the almost 100% attendance rate in early March 2020 before the pandemic, the data indicated.

Some corporate leaders are actively working to bring the remote workforce back to the office. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said last week he was doing “everything” he could to get staff to return to the office — but that they’re not returning “at the level” he wants. To get employees back to the office, Tesla CEO Elon Musk issued an ultimatum to executive staff earlier this month, telling them to return to the office or quit.

On the other end of the spectrum, Airbnb is allowing employees to live and work from anywhere forever, CEO Brian Chesky announced in April. In an interview with Time’s The Leadership Brief last month, Chesky said offices are “an anachronistic form” and that they’re “from a pre-digital age.” Although there’s still a need for offices, they have to be able to offer more than a home set-up can, he said.

“People will still go to offices, but it’ll be for different purposes, for collaboration spaces,” Chesky told Time.