Perks of the job: will office bribes bring people back?

This WORKTECH Academy briefing looks at how this autumn’s much-heralded return to the office is being greased by a few well-placed employee incentives - from free food, DJs and dogs to safe space

Large employers and significant swathes of the real-estate industry may be literally willing millions of workers back to the office this autumn, but all indications so far suggest that the great return is not exactly going smoothly.

Different variants of Covid-19 are disrupting best-laid plans and many employees remain reluctant to resume commuting into city-centre business districts. So what are companies doing to lure them back? Plenty, it seems. Here is a run-down of the bribes and inducements on offer.

Free food: Fed up with constantly raiding the fridge at home? There is apparently such a thing as a free lunch from firms who want you back at your desk. Goldman Sachs is offering free breakfast and lunch to employees, along with dollops of delicious Italian ice cream in its London office. Lawyers Slaughter and May are adopting similar tactics.

‘There is apparently such a thing as a free lunch from firms who want you back at your desk…’

Social Events:  These range from speed chess and table tennis to ‘safely social’ meet-ups. At insurance firm Phoenix Group, employees wear colour-coded lanyards signifying how comfortable a person might be with different level of physical proximity. According to an FT report, global furniture company Steelcase is welcoming staff back to its Grand Rapids headquarters with ‘barbeques and bagpipes’. In this scenario, you are literally piped back into the office.

Cash: If free food and socialising doesn’t float your boat, how about a straightforward financial bribe? Professional service giant PwC is offering its 22,000 UK workforce an extra £1,000 in September as they switch to a hybrid working model with two to three days in the office a week. Staff can spend the money how they wish. What they can’t do is stay at home.

Dogs: Companies are allowing staff to bring their pets – many acquired during lockdown – to the office with them. According to the Sunday Times, dogs are welcome in the UK HQ of pharmaceutical company Sanofi Group while property firm Savills is introducing ‘canine clauses’ in offices leases so that fewer furry friends are left behind at home.

Mental support: Apart from yoga and mindfulness classes, employers are also turning to medical professionals to help soften the blow of the office return. Law firm Clifford Chance has worked with a clinical psychologist to help staff prepare ‘emotionally and physically’ for a new ‘agile’ model with at least half of the time spent in the office as a general rule.

Safer space: If all else fails, companies can fall back on a sure-fire way to conquer reticence about a return to the office. They can promote fresh air, socially distanced desks and other safety-first measures to the workforce as a way to lure them back. Research suggests this ‘hygiene factor’  approach often works best.

What firms can’t do, apparently, is offer flexibility as an inducement – according to a survey of 10,000 knowledge workers in the US, Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the UK for Future Forum, a consortium launched by collaboration hub Slack, the ability to work from home ‘is no longer a perk’. Flexibility is now seen as a right.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 8 September 2021.
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