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The Most Effective Perks & Best Practices to Lure Workers Back to the Office

Too many organizations are focused on freebies and small perks to entice employees back, rather than making those office visits meaningful and productive.


Black and white photo of a man and woman walking into an office.


A lot is riding on the line for the 88 percent of companies offering incentives to employees to entice them to return to the office. 

The results of a new survey by Robin, a workplace platform, found that:  

  • 58 percent of employees said they would go to the office more frequently in order to avoid a cutback in their salary, while 25 percent said they would start looking for another job if threatened by a pay cut. 
  • 64 percent of respondents were more likely to go to the office if they knew their team would be there. 
  • 40 percent of people preferred face time with leadership over other perks, like parking stipends. 
  • Free lunches, parking and commuting stipends incentivize workers to go into the office but so do other intangible things—like one-on-one opportunities with executives, team brainstorms, and the opportunity to socialize with coworkers.  

Robin polled 580 employees in October 2022, and the survey has a margin of error of 3 percent. 

Falling Short 

Some companies apparently do a better job convincing employees to return to the office than others. 

When asked whether their company did a good job incentivizing them into the office, the results were split. Only 25 percent of the employees said their company did it "exceptionally well," and almost 30 percent gave their employers a failing grade. 

Confirming Some Expectations 

"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 co-workers or collaborating in-person with teams," Micah Remley, CEO of Robin, said via email. 

"It's also not surprising how many people gave their employers a failing grade when it comes to incentivizing folks back into the office. This is something nearly every business is trying to figure," he observed. 

"What's less so surprising but more disappointing is that far too many companies are focused on 'freebies' and not enough on how to make the office visit meaningful for the employee," Remley concluded. 

'Small Perks Aren't Enough' 

According to another new survey by online freelance marketplace Fiverr, small perks aren't enough to bring employees back on a full-time basis.  

  • 61 percent of U.S. workers surveyed who want to work remotely said they'd return to the office if their salary was increased 
  • 42 percent of workers surveyed say they'd consider quitting if forced to come back full time 
  • 21 percent said no incentive could convince them to return to the office  

Best Practices 

Corporate executives still searching for the most effective incentives to lure workers back to the office should consider the results of two national polls of what employees say are the most effective perks and penalties. 

Several corporate executives weighed in with their own take on what works—and what doesn't—when trying to convince employees to return to the office. 

Assume Nothing 

"Assume nothing," HR consultant Dawid Wiacek said. "Rather than investing time and money into perks that employees won't even use, survey existing (or exiting) employees to determine what current perks they like and what other perks they would actually like to see. 

"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. For exiting employees, ask what perks at the next company lured them away," he suggested. 

Consistency 

"I think one of the biggest mistakes you can make with introducing perks is to only suggest them when people already seem demotivated," Sarah Kauter, founder and CEO VerriBerri, a public relations and marketing agency. 

"Perks should have a consistency to them; they should be something everyone can rely on and look forward to. I also think it's very disingenuous when businesses describe perks, on a job description, as 'free parking, tea and coffee facilities available, etc.' A perk shouldn't be the bare minimum for a modern workplace," she recommended. 

Flexibility 

"In my experience, the best perk is simple—flexibility," Anna Squires Levine, chief commercial officer at Industrious, as office and workspace company. 

"We have witnessed a paradigm shift in the past two and a half years in how employees prefer to work. The best workplaces will adapt to those preferences rather than try to strongarm 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," she advised. 

'Ask Your Employees' 

"There is no one answer to the question of what perks work the best to get employees to return to the office," Robert Donnelly, the chief financial officer of Marketplace Fairness, a finance and cryptocurrency platform, said. 

"Every company is different, and what might work for one firm might not be as successful with another. Ultimately, the best way to find out what perks will work best for your company is to ask your employees directly. Poll them about what they would like to see, and try to tailor the perks you offer to what they want," he suggested. 

"This will show that you care about their opinion and that you are trying to make their work experience better," Donnelly counseled. 

A More Powerful Motivation? 

There is one side effect of working from home that could motivate remote workers to return to the office more effectively than any perk could. 

"Amid an impending recession, many firms are making cuts, creating some recent fretting among remote or hybrid workers," management consulting firm Korn Ferry observed. 

In a recent survey, 78 percent of employees said that they were concerned that remote workers would lose their jobs first. 

Some of these worries may not be justified, because HR leaders weigh numerous factors besides geographic location. But as experts point out, individual managers are the ones making cuts, and they may be tempted to look first at remote employees, who can be laid off over the phone instead of face-to-face. 

"Proximity bias is real," says Kristi Drew, global account leader in the financial services practice at Korn Ferry.

  

This article was written by Edward Segal from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.


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