Return-to-office conversations are difficult.
There’s plenty of research and real-world evidence that a majority of employees aren’t happy about a mandate to work from the office, even for three or four days per week.
Some important numbers to keep in mind:
- $30,000. According to a 2021 sentiment survey from Blind, if given a choice between working remotely and a $30,000 raise, a majority of tech workers surveyed would turn down the raise, says Dice’s Nick Kolakowski.
- 1 in 3. That’s the proportion of British workers who say they would quit if their employers demanded they return to the office full-time, Vanessa Ong at Reward Strategy writes.
- 62 percent. This is the percentage of remote and hybrid employees who said they would like to see a substantial raise in exchange for coming into the office full-time, the team at Blackhawk Network writes. The average figure for such a substantial raise came out to $11,700.
This is all to say that a return-to-office mandate comes with certain costs. How big those costs are seems to depend on how wisely employers invest in their employees’ total reward packages.
What Rewards Make a Return to the Office Easier for People?
For starters, every employer that asks its people to come back into the office for X number of days per week will have to support them in making that transition.
Employers that fail to do so will pay a high price in employee churn. Danielle Solis at Express Employment Professionals puts that number, on average, at just more than $57,000 per employee.
Below are a few types of reward investments employers can make to minimize staff turnover and make a return to the office easier.
Help With Parenting and Caregiving Responsibilities
Many people spent 2020, 2021, and 2022 with their families and developed important routines around their responsibilities as parents, as caregivers, and as pet owners.
Those routines can be hard to break, and many people will need assistance in delivering care and attention during the hours they’ll now be spending at the office.
By offering financial assistance or by hiring professionals to assist with those responsibilities, employers can make the return-to-office transition easier for such workers.
Help Offset Commuting Costs
People who all of a sudden have a commute again will take on new costs. They’ll have to buy fuel or buy public transportation passes that they hadn’t needed during the last three years.
When Amazon told employees in early 2023 that they would have to return to the office, thousands of Amazon workers took to internal communication channels such as Slack to vent their frustrations, CNBC’s Annie Palmer reports.
One employee mentioned that they had leased a car with an annual driving limit of 16,000 miles. Having a daily or even thrice-weekly commute would mean exceeding that limit and breaking the terms of the lease.
Help Employees Move Back Closer to the Office
Many people who transitioned to a work-from-home arrangement moved to places where costs of living are lower. In some cases, those moves were to new homes in new cities or in new states.
Giving a return-to-work mandate means those people will either need to move back or find a new job. Employers can support the former option by offering financial help, home-finding help, and assistance with the move.
Help Employees Navigate Mental Health Challenges
Employers shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that every one of us has some kind of COVID-19-related trauma, which will have “long-term physical and emotional impacts,” Gartner researchers Emily Rose McRae, Peter Aykens, Kaelyn Lowmaster, and Jonah Shepp write.
“Employees’ stress and worry in 2022 grew above even 2020 peaks — nearly 60% of employees report they are stressed at their jobs every day. The societal, economic, and political turbulence of the last few years is manifesting as decreased productivity and performance, no-notice quitting and workplace conflict.”
Employers can help employees alleviate that stress by offering mental health support, as well as by being flexible in working conditions. “This may include proactive PTO before high-demand working periods, no-meeting Fridays, allotted wellness time, and including team PTO in managers’ goals,” McRae et al. write.
Make the Office a Place People Don’t Mind Coming Into
“[I]f you’re planning on mandating a RTO policy, you have to create an office space that excites and rewards people for being there,” Awardco cofounder and CEO Steve Sonnenberg writes at HR Morning.
Key to this will be designing workspaces that encourage both quiet, concentrative work, and collaboration. Total reward factors into this, too, as catered lunches, meal subsidies, and office snacks help make the office a more inviting place.
Each Return to the Office Has a Personal Dimension
Despite the pushback from most workers, there are plenty of people who are looking forward to getting back to the office.
Caitlin Kamm, head of people growth at workplace platform Envoy, tells the San Francisco Chronicle she looks forward to having lunch with colleagues, chatting with others in the office, and generally giving her week a structure that’s not quite as sturdy when she’s working from home.
The lesson in all of this: Different people will need and want different things from their employers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will make returns to the office work for everyone. The incentives and the accommodations have to happen on a personal level.
Total reward can and should be a part of that personal accommodation. But to truly understand how it fits in, you have to listen to your employees to learn what they want.
“[I]nstead of formulating a return to work plan yourself, try to start a conversation with your employees and listen to their reasons,” the team at Join writes.
“Openly ask for feedback and input and base your plan on what your employees have to say. For example, you can do this via 1-2-1 meetings or by sending out company-wide surveys.”
Make Personalized Rewards Part of Your RTO Plan
At this point, you have a few ideas for what you can do to make a return to the office easier on someone. You could pay for their move, subsidize the lease or purchase of a car, provide mental health support, and/or give people raises.
All of those are more cost-effective options than spending $57,000 on an employee who leaves.
But what’s the best option? Again, it depends on the person.
Some workers might appreciate a lump-sum payment to help them with their living costs, or a raise. Workers closer to retirement might prefer higher contributions to their pensions.
Use the conversations you’ve had with employees about returning to the office as a starting point for discovering who prefers what. From there, you have further options:
- Data. Look into your own total reward data to see what benefits resonate with your team. Segment that data according to various factors (whether someone is a new parent, whether someone has a lengthy commute) to match rewards with preferences.
- Give people choices. You can also call your teams together and ask people what specific rewards they would find motivating. “[Let] attendees mention three products and experiences that they would like within a given budget range,” writes Grace He, director of people and culture at TeamBuilding.com. “Then, you can select one activity or product within your budget that is in line with company policy. We recommend that you lean more towards experiences such as vacations with family, spa days, or kayaking trips.”
- Remind people of the rewards already available to them. Employees don’t always remember (or they’re not made aware of) the benefits to which they’re entitled. Now is a great time to show them what’s in their total rewards package.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.