Employees Want Compensation for the Costs of Coming into the Office, While Few Employers Have Introduced Incentives to Return
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Employer mandates and the nature of people’s jobs are the main reasons people are working in-person, according to a recent survey of employees. A survey of HR representatives finds about 9 in 10 employer return-to-office policies focus on employee productivity, company culture, and collaboration.
CHICAGO, November 27, 2023 — Data from two surveys indicate a significant divide between employers and employees over returning to the office. Less than half of employees are described as happy or comfortable about the prospect of returning to their workplaces by human resource representatives surveyed. Three out of four HR representatives say retaining those who don’t want to come back to work in the office is a problem, while one in five calls it a major problem.
Recognizing the new challenges facing millions of employers and employees who transitioned to remote work during the pandemic, NORC at the University of Chicago conducted two surveys. The first was an in-depth survey of human resources representatives about the views of American employers and employees on returning to the office. The second, a nationwide survey of American adults, asked paid employees working in-person, remotely, or in hybrid situations about their current work arrangements and which return-to-office incentives would appeal to them.
“COVID-19 changed many people’s perceptions of when and where they can most effectively and efficiently accomplish their jobs,” said Marjorie Connelly, senior fellow with NORC’s Public Affairs & Media Research department. “While most employees say they are required to work in person, many of those who work remotely at least some of the time say there is no reason they need to be in the office. The survey of HR representatives indicates that companies need to determine priorities about whether and when to work in offices and explain these decisions to retain their workforce.”
“While most employees say they are required to work in person, many of those who work remotely at least some of the time say there is no reason they need to be in the office. The survey of HR representatives indicates that companies need to determine priorities about whether and when to work in offices and explain these decisions to retain their workforce.”
Employees were asked what would incentivize them to work in person more often. Additional pay for in-office work tops the list for respondents currently working in person, though they say other incentives like food and amenities, commuter benefits, and more access to company leadership would also help with satisfaction. Hybrid employees cite similar incentives for what would make them more inclined to spend time at the office.
Nearly a quarter of HR representatives cite a loss of flexibility or work-life balance as the top reason they think employees were unwilling to come back to the office, and an equal number mention the ease, convenience, and increased productivity of working from home. Sixteen percent of HR respondents say the time or cost of commuting was also a deterrent.
While amenities like food and snacks and additional benefits like commuter assistance would help, most in-person and hybrid employees really want to be compensated for coming into the workplace. However, according to HR representatives, very few employers have introduced incentives to encourage employees to return to the office. Commuter benefits and paying workers to come back to the office are rare.
Among employees who always work in-person, 75 percent say their employer requires all personnel to show up at the office. Eight percent choose to work in-person even though their employer allows remote work, and another 17 percent say some workers are permitted to work remotely, but their position is not eligible for remote work.
Among the employees who work both in person and remotely (the hybrid approach), about 3 in 10 are required by their employer to be in the office at least part of the time and 22 percent say they go into the office some days in order to collaborate or bond with their co-workers.
“The survey of HR representatives provides employers with useful information on how other companies are navigating this environment,” said David Dutwin, senior vice president of Strategic Initiatives and director of NORC’s Center for Panel Survey Sciences. “Working from home is unlikely to completely go away, but many employers believe working together and in person is a huge factor in creating workplace culture. This creates a tension employers and employees will have to navigate.”
The survey of HR representatives also revealed substantial differences across different types of employers. While 9 out of 10 say their company had not introduced any new policies or incentives to encourage a return to the office, those who did tended to be in the private sector. For-profit companies were nearly twice as likely as their government or nonprofit counterparts to introduce enticements such as social events and in-office social spaces, increased access to leadership, and gratuities such as free snacks.
NORC interviewed human resources (HR) representatives using the SHRM Voice of Work Research Panel, a unique survey panel that NORC built for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) that is designed to be representative of U.S. companies. Researchers surveyed 1,099 HR representatives of companies from a broad mix of industries where at least 10 percent of employees were either fully remote or on a hybrid schedule. NORC fielded the survey in November and December 2022. It included open-ended follow-up questions that yielded a wealth of information about both employers and employees as viewed through the HR lens. Some of these HR departments had polled company employees about returning to the office, while others had not.
The survey of employees was conducted by NORC using the AmeriSpeak® Omnibus, a bi-monthly multi-client survey using NORC’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. Interviews were conducted in August and September 2023 with 2,242 adults, of whom 1,160 are paid employees.
About NORC at the University of Chicago
NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.
Contact: For more information, please contact Eric Young at NORC at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 217-6814 (cell).
About NORC’s Center for Panel Survey Sciences
Founded by NORC, the Center for Panel Survey Sciences is the first-ever resource for researchers who wish to advance the science of panel surveys. Championed by an active network of research fellows, the Center promotes transparency and scientific excellence by making both data and new methodologies accessible across the industry.