woman in black blazer holding smartphone beside woman in blue shirt

A Big Reason Your Workers Are Cranky About RTO

Here’s a workplace truth: Management often has no clue what the rank-and-file are thinking.

This is often because employees suck at communicating directly, though their fear of doing so is often justified because of, shall we say, overzealous HR departments. Too often, however, it’s because managers are so used to being managers that they’re not thinking like they used to before they were given a title and an office.

We’re seeing this a lot now as more and more companies are pushing return-to-the-office plans and calling back workers who have been remote for two years. I’ve already made the case for why I think WFH is going away, but that doesn’t absolve management of its responsibility to make the transition as easy as possible.

When I’ve talked to people about why some employees are cranky about returning to the office, I’ve heard a variety of things that may or may not be true. In their estimation, people …

What I haven’t heard is something far more practical and, in turns out, provable.


How’s a Pay Cut Sound?

What’s a different reason some could be cranky about RTO? Try this: People essentially got a raise when WFH became a thing, and they’re not exactly looking forward to the pay cut that comes with RTO, especially when it’s coupled with inflation.

There’s hard data to back this sentiment.

Owl Labs recent survey of 2,300 full-time employees across these here United States revealed some interesting things about remote, in-office and hybrid work trends. One of the most surprising was the huge difference in monthly expenses for those who work in-office compared to those who WFH.

The survey found that in-office workers average $863 per month on expenses such as commuting, food and pet care, while remote workers spend just about half that — $432. Added up over a year, your decision to have workers RTO is cutting their pay by more than $5,000. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be upset if they were told they were getting a $5,000 pay decrease.

“But but but!” you say. “It’s not really a pay cut. It’s a return to normal.”

Is that really how you want to explain that to your employees who are being besieged by higher prices for everything from gas to clothes to cars to eggs to homes? I would argue that’s not a great retention strategy.

There’s nothing “normal” about what workers coming back to the office are returning to. What there is is a whole lot of uncertainty and underlying fear in a populace in which most everyone was in some may personally touched by a global plague that has now killed more than 6.5 million people.

Perhaps that’s a good reason for some deeper thought and sensitivity to the situation.


What’s a Leader to Do?

As I’ve written, there’s no good business reason to allow WFH to continue. There’s nothing I’ve seen that says it is what’s best for business, and in this lovely capitalistic society of ours, what’s best for business is always going to win.

“But what about workers’ health? That’s certainly best for business,” you argue.

No. No it’s not.

We have this view of the American workplace as the mom and dad of our professional lives and have become indoctrinated to believe it must care about our non-work needs. That’s why we expect health insurance and retirement plans and other paternalistic perks when they really have nothing to do with the mission of the business. Yes, it’s a great benefit, but it shouldn’t be misconstrued as a sign that capitalism cares about the rank-and-file worker. It’s a fantastic ideal that doesn’t stand up to an examination of history in our country.

What business leaders should understand, though, is that, as long as there are options, companies that subject their employees to an average pay cut of $5,000 a year are not going to retain the best workers.

From a business standpoint, it makes sense to find ways to creatively incentivize the top employees to return to the office with perks that are equal to or greater than the cut they feel by RTO. A time is coming when those options to go elsewhere will be far fewer, but they will never go away. Smart companies will leverage the possibility of these perks to wrench the top performers from your grasp.

It might be a good idea to get ahead of that.

John Agliata is a marketing professional with more than 30 years of communications experience. Reach him at johnagliata@gmail.com or (352) 226-5852.


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