PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The future of the workplace in the Pacific Northwest will be heavily determined by the so-called Great Resignation, employee expectations and the debate over a return to the office, according to a report from Washington State University.

WSU’s Carson College of Business released a 2022 Business in the Northwest report that said this year’s challenges centered on the increasing competition for talent, the benefits and disadvantages of flexible work and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Gen-Z employees – many of whom feel behind because they haven’t had a traditional office experience.

“This was another tough year, but businesses across the region rose to meet the challenges presented by 2021, remaining resilient yet nimble despite ever-changing conditions,” said Chip Hunter, Carson College of Business dean. “As we approach the two-year anniversary of COVID, we anticipate continued re-strengthening of the PNW business climate in 2022 and an evolving economy.”

According to the university, the report surveyed more than 1,000 Pacific Northwest business leaders, employees and Gen Z employees about the state of business in the region and how new and existing challenges have affected them.

Some key findings include new challenges, such as sales volume, revenue and profitability appear to be rebounding from the impacts of COVID-19, but business leaders are now struggling with production and labor shortages.

Similar to national employment trends, the region is also struggling to attract and retain employees, according to the report. 69% of Pacific Northwest business leaders say they want to create more job opportunities at their company but are not confident there are enough qualified applicants to fill them.

As for employee experience, the report said that now, more than ever, most Pacific Northwest employees feel it is “crucial” to work for a company that cares about employee well-being and has values that align with their own, and for Gen-Z employees, 82% said “diversity, equity and inclusion is a ‘must have’ in the workplace.”

The report also listed top changes that have had a positive impact on employee morale: flexible work hours, raised wages and additional training opportunities.

What about returning to the office?

WSU said safety concerns are no longer the primary reason many professionals favor remote work. However, employees and employers alike prefer flexibility but admit it has made collaboration and communication more difficult.

Seventy-six percent of business leaders and 73% of employees feel it is safe to return to the workplace, according to the report.

“Despite this, the future of work is a continuing conversation: 71% of business leaders and 59% of employees think working in a traditional 9 to 5 office setting is not realistic for them,” the university said. “There are disadvantages to remote work: 38% of PNW employees report it has the most negative impact on collaboration and teamwork. Amid the ongoing debate, 60% of business leaders and 71% of employees say their company has a plan to return to the office full-time.”

As for the Gen-Z outlook, the report notes that employees of this generation are most likely to feel COVID hindered their growth but remain optimistic about the future.

More than any generation, the university said, “Gen Z employees (61%) feel their job responsibilities and expectations have changed a lot since COVID-19 began,” adding, “despite concerns, 71% found they work best in a flexible work environment.”

To view the full report, click here.