29 February 2024
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Bosses winning the battle to get workers back to the office

Peter Switzer
23 November 2023

At a time when the Reserve Bank boss is warning that wage rises without productivity improvements will lead to inflation being higher for longer and therefore expect high interest rates, ANZ has joined other big companies to threaten “no bonuses for you” if an employee doesn’t rack up 50% of worktime in the office.

The AFR says the likes of Suncorp and Origin Energy have linked showing up to the office to pay increases and annual performance reviews.

It looks like some bosses have grown tired of the work-from-home trend that exploded out of the pandemic and its related lockdowns. Undoubtedly, we’re looking at the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, many work-from-home employees dispute that productivity is better in the office. However, the AFR reports that last week the Fair Work Commission ruled in favour of salary packaging provider, Maxxia, agreeing the company had “reasonable business grounds” to reject a case adviser’s request to work exclusively from home. It found that face-to-face interactions in the office helped improve productivity, training and general team culture. This isn’t to say that the concept of the hybrid work model is dead in the water, but it looks like employers will have more rights to demand a lot more in terms of time in the office than what many employees would prefer.

This has happened as the Finance Sector Union dropped its case against the CBA for not engaging in consultation with the union and its employees before imposing a 50% ‘at work’ rule.

In a clever play to show that ANZ management has shown that they respect the positive effects of employees getting to work from home, the AFR reported: “Staff were told the 50 per cent attendance rule provided enough flexibility to ‘accommodate nearly all personal circumstances’. But exemptions would be given to employees in ‘exceptional circumstances which warrant greater flexibility’.”

Greater flexibility around these new work-in-the-office rules could mean an employee could work from home for two months and not be affected by the 50% rule, if circumstances justified it.

In the UK where I’m writing this piece, Fortune.com says employees are working more in the office than from home. In late October, the business website described the change this way: “More U.K. employees are returning to offices full-time than those working in a hybrid setup. Offices in the U.K. are making a comeback—or maybe employees are. Workers and employers have been engaged in a tug-of-war over return-to-work mandates since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.”

It's interesting that the ANZ and the CBA are linking their 50% in-the-office rule to performance reviews and pay rises, when some experts argue that financial incentives are actually not great for raising an employee’s productivity!

This from brookstreet.co.uk sums up what many experts think: “It is a common perception within business that money is the key to increasing employee happiness and productivity during work. After all, who doesn't want more money? Recent research carried out by Paymentense, the world's leading merchant service provider, has shot this theory out of the water and revealed what workers truly need to keep them motivated during their 9-5 day is flexible working and early finishes on Fridays! “The study, which 2,000 full-time office workers participated in, reported that two out of the top 10 office benefits people looked for were financial incentives. The top 5 incentives were:

  1. Early finish Fridays 35%.
  2. Unlimited holidays 35%.
  3. Bonuses (company-wide) 32%.
  4. Flexible hours 30%.
  5. Day off for duvet day/birthday holiday/moving house holiday 28%!”

That’s my exclamation point because I didn’t know duvet days were important. By the way, a duvet day is a day that an organisation agrees employees can take off without advance notice. In contrast, global management business McKinsey & Co maintain: “In our experience, supporting hundreds of trans­formation efforts, generous and specific financial incentives are one of the most effective tools available for executives to motivate employees. In fact, companies that implemented financial incentives tied directly to transformation outcomes achieved almost a fivefold increase in total shareholder returns (TSR) compared with compa­nies without similar programs.”

It looks like it’s a 50:50 argument about financial incentives, so the 50% rule from the ANZ and others might make some sense, given that the attitudes of employees aren’t universally the same.

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