Should in-office workers be paid more?

As many companies have resumed their in-office operations and employees are attending their offices in person, a debate has been raised regarding the payment structure. Some argue since people coming to the office need to commute and sacrifice the convenience of working from home than their remote counterparts, they need to be paid more.

Some studies have indicated that a large number of employees today aren’t inclined to go back to their offices. A survey conducted by Morning Consult, a business-intelligence firm, showed that 6 in 10 adults preferred to apply for a job having an option of remote work. In the survey, 54% of the respondents said they would think about leaving their employment if their companies tried to compel them to return to the office. With several companies already going back to their pre-COVID routine of full-time cubical work and some either planning to do it soon or choosing a hybrid model, increasing the salary and perks has been a favoured option to bring back reluctant employees to office. But the question remains – should these people be paid more? Let’s find out.

Luring Employees to In-office Work

Companies focusing on in-office work and the connection between its people are trying to coerce their employees to come to the office by offering them a pay raise. Compared to salary cuts or freezes, pay raises are simpler. The reason could be understood with the ‘prospect theory’ in behavioural economics. As people evaluate their gains and losses in an asymmetric manner, it’s easier to give individuals something than taking it away. In the present job market, where remote workers face pay cuts and some even having their salaries frozen, in-office workers will find it lucrative to get a pay increase. Though the increase isn’t significant and is typically in the range of 5% to 10%, which appears more about setting the salary to market norms, it’s still a difference that could encourage people to come to the office physically.

Some employers aren’t stopping at just a pay raise. They are offering other financial incentives for their in-office workers, such as a daily allowance for meeting commuting costs, free gym memberships, and subsidised meals. Each of these incentives has been planned cleverly. For instance, after working from home for almost 1.5 years, people could find commuting costs an added expense. If their employers decide to absorb this cost, they could have one less reason not to come to the office.

If your employees tend to skip in-person office on Mondays and Fridays, offering them additional return-to-office benefits like breakfasts and lunches at subsidised rates on these days could work well. That’s exactly what Babel, a PR agency in London, did by offering their in-office employees breakfasts, lunches, and drinks (on Fridays) at 1600 to lure them into coming to the office at least three days each week.

Other supplementary benefits for in-office workers include free gym memberships, social programming, and even luxurious options like all-expense-paid trips to exotic destinations. However, some experts caution that these premiums, though revolutionary, won’t last for long. Eventually, they say such pay incentives will vanish because companies will no longer employ new people in entirely remote roles.   

The Future of the Workspace with Differing Pay Scales

Companies have always had pay discrepancies among various levels, like between local managers and those hired and flown in from foreign shores, full-time employees and contract workers, etc. But if in-office workers are paid more or offered added perks and benefits, the discrepancy will become quite transparent. This could make the companies open to litigation.

Race and gender also play a crucial role in luring employees back to the office. For example, women prefer to work flexibly. That’s what the Future Forum Pulse Report published in January 2022 by Slack corroborates, as 52% of women surveyed told they desired to work at least mostly remotely, while the percentage of men with the same desire was lower at 46%. This report also revealed that in the United States, 81% of Black and Asian and 86% of Hispanic and Latino employees preferred an entirely remote or hybrid work arrangement, compared to 75% of white employees. The Slack study attributes this trend to minority employees facing fewer microaggressions in a remote work setting, which also decreases their need for code-switching (where they have to switch from one language to another to carry on with a conversation). Thus, employers need to consider if their women and minority workers, who are fully or partially remote, continue to be paid less, while fatter pay packets and added perks and benefits go to those who return to in-person office despite everyone doing the same job or shouldering similar responsibilities.

Final Words

64% of professionals on Blind indicate their preference for permanent work from home than receiving a $30K compensation increase. This specifies where the preference of a majority lies. If employers are to lure their employees back to the office and make them stay in the long run, they need to think beyond pay raises. What’s your opinion on this matter?

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