Chancellor Rishi Sunak made headlines this week when he publicly aired his view that young people should return to the office, or risk damaging their long-term career prospects. For better or worse, these comments have sparked a great deal of debate across both employers and wider society, with public opinion divided across the board.
So, is encouraging younger workers – and, indeed, the workforce in general – back to the office en masse the answer? As with so many aspects of employee wellbeing, the answer is more nuanced than a simple yes or no.
There are without doubt many benefits to having members of the team in the office full-time, such as collaboration, creativity and overall workplace culture, which is naturally crucial for long-term engagement and success. However, for many employees there is also an opportunity cost to full-time office-based working and, indeed, many staff also saw a number of benefits from working remotely – which will be difficult to give up. For example, our recent Global Working from Home Survey found that staff were almost universally sleeping better with no commute to contend with, scoring this affirmation 8.6 out of 10.
Factoring in other benefits such as staff being able to tailor workspaces to their own needs, less need to arrange childcare and being able to save money on everyday expenses such as office lunches, and it becomes clear that a blunt-force approach to enforcing office-based working will not sit well with all.
For staff to return to the office, therefore, there must be some kind of incentive for them to do so – employers must provide more of the carrot, and less of the stick. For starters, the office could, and should, become more than simply a place to work, which we now know can be achieved just as effectively as at home in many cases. Employers should position the workplace as more of a hub in which teams can come together, collaborate and socialise, creating working experiences that are greater than the sum of their parts.
Rather than asking employees to come into work on specific days, employers could encourage them to come in for specific events, such as a lunchtime learning session, a team brainstorm, or even a more social event such as a teambuilding day or post-work drinks.
By doing this, the workplace offers staff something extra that they don’t get at home. Offices will then move away from being a burden to work from and more towards being a place staff actually want to visit because of the wellness benefits the workplace offers them – not merely because they feel they have to.
Looking outside the office, the daily commute – a recurrent pain point for staff – could also change. According to new research from transport technology specialist Kura, almost a third of employees (32.4%) spend more than an hour each day commuting to and from work each day, which is time many would prefer to spend with loved ones, pursuing personal passions, or organising life admin – not to mention the significant financial cost of commuting.
Given this, businesses that expect staff to return to the office could consider factoring commuting-related perks, such as season ticket loans and flexible working to beat the rush-hour traffic, into their overall benefits package. On this note, it may also be advisable to offer coaching to help employees with their personal finances, to help offset the increased costs of commuting and office life. For example, businesses could consider offering a savings programme, such as Wrkit’s Lifestyle Savings, to help employees spend less money.
Overall, moving forwards there will be no one-size-fits-all approach to either working patterns or employee wellness more widely, and businesses should not seek one. In order to ensure healthier, happier workplaces long-term, employees must be offered flexibility in how they work, as well as how they are supported, rewarded and recognised for the work they do.
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