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What Perks Actually Succeed at Luring Employees Back to the Office (and Which Fail Miserably)?

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The pandemic may have changed how and where people work forever, but according to a recent ResumeBuilder.com study, 90% of companies polled said they will demand workers to return to the office (RTO) in 2023. A further 21% of companies claimed they will fire workers who don’t follow RTO orders.

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Whether companies will be able to get employees to willingly return to the workplace without resorting to strong-arm tactics is another issue entirely.  

Another study, by flexible workplace platform leader Robin, gauged workers’ feelings about what it would take to get them to return to the office. The Robin study found that social connection perks may be the key to higher RTO rates.

As Forbes reported, things like free lunches and parking help keep workers temporarily happy, but longer-term satisfaction comes from employee engagement activities like team brainstorming, meeting with company executives and the chance to socialize with coworkers.

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Per the Robin study, 64% of respondents were more likely to go to the office if they knew their team would be there — and 40% of those surveyed said they would favor quality face time with leadership over other perks, like allowances for commuting, for example.

“The findings of the survey confirmed many of the things we expected to be true of employees today — that workers enjoy going into the office when they have something to gain from the trip, whether that’s seeing their favorite coworkers or collaborating in-person with teams,” said Robin CEO Micah Remley in an email to Forbes.

Heidi Brooks, a senior lecturer at Yale University’s School of Management, concurred. Quoted by CNBC’s Make It, Brooks said, “We don’t just work for the sake of productivity or transactional reasons like being able to pay our bills. We also work because it’s meaningful to us and brings us a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves… social connection enlivens and animates these feelings of belonging and joy.”

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Businesses Struggle With Retention Over Perks

However, with so many companies turning to incentives to get workers back to the office (88%, according to ResumeBuilder.com), their strategies have to be appropriate and value-laden. “It’s also not surprising how many people gave their employers a failing grade when it comes to incentivizing folks back into the office,” Remley stated. “This is something nearly every business is trying to figure.”

As HR consultant Dawid Wiacek told Forbes, businesses would do well to canvass current and past employees to see what perks are appreciated by employees — and which are wasting time and money.

“This will ensure that you’re investing resources responsibly and wisely and not just hemorrhaging money on, say, a pool table that three employees (out of 500) actually use,” stated Wiacek.

“In my experience, the best perk is simple — flexibility,” explained Anna Squires Levine, chief commercial officer at workspace innovator Industrious.

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“We have witnessed a paradigm shift in the past two and a half years in how employees prefer to work,” said Levine. “The best workplaces will adapt to those preferences rather than try to strong-arm employees through mandates or perks which don’t address individual preferences. Right now, what matters the most to employees is autonomy — structural choices about where to work, how to work, and when to work.”

As Ashley Stahl detailed for Forbes, paid time off, flexible work schedules and corporate-sponsored wellness programs may be the way forward for companies looking to make employees feel respected and productive at the office. Instant gratification or distraction perks like kombucha bars and video games aren’t “moving the needle like they used to,” wrote Stahl.

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Of course, money is still a major motivator to work. Per the ResumeBuilder.com survey, if threatened with a cutback in wages, 58% of employees said they would go to the office more frequently, but 25% said they would look for new job if their employer enforced a salary cut.

However, remote workers who stick to their guns might be left out if employers look to make cuts should the economy continue to tailspin or drive straight into a recession. When it comes to deciding who to let go, many feel that remote workers would fall victim to workplace proximity bias and would be the first to be terminated.

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Per GoodHire’s 2022 remote work survey, 78% of American workers worried that remote employees would be more at risk of losing their jobs than full-time office workers in the event of layoffs during a recession. A substantial 33% stated they would either quit or start applying for a new job immediately if remote options were not available.

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