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Employees foot the bill for the return to office

Minati Bawa

Remote work has been a topic of discussion since the beginning of the pandemic. In 2020, many were wondering after the pandemic, whether employees would go back to work or if most Americans would work from home. Since companies started rolling out return-to-office mandates, the policies continue to hurt employees.

Return to the office did not come easy and many employees quit their positions to join companies with remote options. The question of return to office became a topic of heated debate and many companies started putting out different narratives on why it was necessary.

The Gallup poll showed that 16% of chief human resources officers at large companies said that their executive team believed remote employees were “double dipping.” 

“Double dipping” refers to the practice of a full-time employee holding more than two jobs at the same time. The concern of “double dipping” is what companies name as the reason for the return to office mandates.

In reality, “double dipping” is not a common practice. A recent McKinsey research estimates that only 5% of employees are employed at more than two companies at the same time. So, over-employment is not the key issue for return-to-office mandates.

Employees who engage in two or more jobs at the same time are not disengaged at their jobs. 

The reasons for “double dipping” are most likely economic, with inflation and rising costs many are struggling to make ends meet and have to work more than two jobs to afford bills.

The majority of employees choose remote positions because it is cheaper, allows for more time with loved ones and allows them to maintain a better work-life balance compared to working in the office. Studies show that when employees must come into the office, they spend close to $9000 on transportation, or at least 19% of their annual income.

Research shows that an average employee lives twice as far from where they work now as compared to pre-pandemic. While some started jobs at companies across the country, some moved states for better living standards or to be closer to family. The commute that was commonplace before the pandemic is now taking away from their personal lives.

While it seems that remote work was the solution many employees hoped for, cost efficiency became the problem. When people moved away to the suburbs, the city economy suffered. For example, San Francisco reported losing billions from spending shifting to the suburbs.

Employers were also not thrilled with the lack of employee control in remote work. Trends like “quiet quitting” which is when employees put less effort into their work, made companies worry about the money they were losing.

Gallup reported that in 2023, $8.8 trillion in productivity was lost because of actively disengaged employees. Rising trends in employee disengagement, lower profits, inflation and smaller consumer spending made companies reconsider the benefits of remote work.

Although companies gained better control over employee productivity and offices and cities are thriving with employees coming back and moving into expensive rent, employees are still struggling.

While employees are left battling the rising cost of living, cost of transport and stagnant wages, the question remains, will this last? It remains to be seen if employees will push for the return to working from home.

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