Should we draw the line at incentivising a return to the office?

Should we draw the line at incentivising a return to the office?

Despite a recent call to workers to return to the comfort of the home office, there are worries that the return to an office environment is going on t

Despite a recent call to workers to return to the comfort of the home office, there are worries that the return to an office environment is going on too gradually. What can employers who feel that employees perform better in the head office do? For some, it’s as simple as dishing out a few sandwiches or some cash.

Whilst we accept that HR professionals and leaders have to d extra work to make the workplace additionally engaging and to provide comfort – should we draw the line and incentivising a return to the office?

Here are some examples.

  • Bloomberg is offering its 20,000 worldwide workers an every day remittance of $75 (£55) to cover cash based transportation costs when driving, regardless of whether for vehicle administrations, costs, leaving, or public transportation.

 

  • Goldman Sachs, is offering ten days of care for each employee, notwithstanding the 20 days that is already regularly accessible every year. The organization even offers financiers a free takeaway breakfast and lunch.

 

  • Blackstone is covering taxis for workers in London and New York to go to the workplace and JPMorgan utilizes JPM Park, a cell phone application that permits chiefs to give parking spaces at its Canary Wharf HQ to youngsters who are driving in.

 

  • A company that helps businesses to find an office location is proposing the Government to back an idea where employees who return to work in a city centre are offered a lunch voucher to promote going out to eat during their break. The firm Offices is calling this campaign “Lunch is on us” and states it is very similar to the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme. The aim is that
    • The government would provide free lunch vouchers for the value of £5
    • Bosses would hand out vouchers every day
    • Valid in city centre cafes and sandwich shops only
    • Restriction to working days only

Do we need to give incentives to get back to the office?

This is all pretty weird when you think about it. Let’s not forget this a pandemic here, even if you can still get your hands on a Starbucks.  We liked this comment from the National Law Review.

“This seems superficially attractive and might make a difference to a handful of waverers, though surely only the shallowest of employees would shelve their fears of potentially fatal infection on the train for the sake of a free apple and a bap at lunchtime.  Anything more substantial by way of encouragement would run into the obvious issue that you are then paying extra to get people to do a job they are already contracted and paid to do and are in fact already doing, though at home.”

The stats show that for many people, there’s real resistance to returning to the office, and if people do – everything will have changed. Your car parking system, cycle to work scheme and wellbeing spend are likely to change.

You could provide workplace parking as a tax-exempt benefit and would cover parking at the employer’s car park or the cost of parking at a public car park nearby, but this is likely to be less attractive for you if you also have a green agenda.

Giving out a bacon roll or a quick snap payment on where the cars go is just dusting over the surface of why people don’t want to return, no?

VitalSmarts recently released a study that found only 14% of employees say their organization is COVID safe with appropriate precautions for them to return to work.

However, even if appropriate precautions are in place, 2 out of 5 employees admitted to feeling nervous about the risk of infection when interacting with their coworkers.

This is a nationwide feeling. In spite of a little uptick in London after the August bank holiday, travel into office is down. Traveller numbers on the London Underground before 10am on September 1 were down 69 percent year-on-year and the UK are returning at a rate that is slower than France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. With mass migration to working from home, in March, road traffic travel dropped to levels not seen since 1955, and journeys on the London Underground fell by 95%. Today, only 6% of those travelling to work by train feel comfortable, dropping to just 4% for tube users.

The fact transport trends have changed, and that people are looking to use more active modes of transport like cycling and walking (which have more than doubled to 20% and 10% respectively) and a quarter of 18-44-year olds expect to retain the new modes of travel they used during lockdown, shows that contagion is a genuine concern.

What reasons do you have in place?

Despite the many stories of companies implementing tracking software to check every single minute is accounted for, people do want to work. Productivity is not down. (I disregard press releases from companies with a vested interest in suggesting otherwise to sell their productivity boosting software…) 

So this leaves us with some thinking points.

Why do employees have to be coaxed back? To what benefit?

If someone wants to WFH and has shown it feasible over the last 5 months, can you insist on a return? We must remember that if the “employee has shown it feasible” without evidence they haven’t opens the door not just to claims under the flexible working rules but potentially also for indirect discrimination in relation to disability, gender and age. If an employer finds it has more employees wanting to work from home, it could enter into homeworking arrangements with those employees under which they can make tax-exempt payments for costs incurred for working at home. A temporary income tax/ NIC exemption for reimbursed expenses of home office equipment was introduced in the summer as a result of the pandemic but only runs until 5 April 2021.

Bear in mind that one of the most common googled questions is

“Can my boss make me come back to work?’

(For reference the answer is if you have been asked – then you will be deemed to be absent without authorisation if you don’t show up. You are unlikely to get paid for this and it may also be considered as a disciplinary offence.)  But as an employee – this is a chance to get ahead – work out WHY you wish employees to be back, what that means for you long term, and if you feel you need a bacon roll to do so – perhaps sit down and have a rethink.

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