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.

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