Go back to the office? Some workers would rather sacrifice half their pay - and their holidays

A survey of 3,500 workers in the US found that some employees would give up 50% of their salary, alongside other benefits like paid holidays, in return for continued WFH options.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor

Employees have strong feelings about returning to the office, to the extent that a new survey suggests many workers would rather sacrifice a portion of their salary or give up paid holidays if it meant they never had to set foot there again.

A survey of 3,500 US workers commissioned by GoodHire, an employment screening service provider, found that more than two-thirds (68%) would choose remote working over working from an office -- a sentiment that has been echoed thoroughly by white-collar workers who have enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of working from home during the pandemic.

So hesitant are employees to return to the office, in fact, that 61% of those surveyed said they would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for being able to work from home permanently. Some even suggested they'd sacrifice up to 50% of their current wage to do so.

Most respondents weren't willing to take such a big pay cut to carry on working from home: the most common response was a 10% reduction in salary.

Yet salaries weren't the only thing employees were willing to give up in return for remote working: 70% of respondents said they would give up benefits including health, dental or visual insurance, paid time off, gym memberships, and retirement benefits and accounts, including their 401k.

Back to the old grind?

The findings suggest employers face a hard time persuading workers back to their desks after many have spent the past 18 months working remotely.

While working from home has not been without its problems, many have found that it has afforded them the flexibility to fit other responsibilities and life admin around their work, not to mention saving them the stress and expense of commuting to an office five days a week.

A number of companies are currently drawing up their office reopening plans, and while some have introduced permanent remote or 'hybrid' options for staff, some big tech firms, including Google, have courted controversy by suggesting that those who decide not to return to the office full-time could receive pay cuts.

The assumption is that, if an employee is no longer commuting into an office and is potentially working in a lower-income area, their living expenses are lower, and thus their salary should be adjusted accordingly. On the other hand, remote workers are likely saving their employers on food, utility and real estate expenses, so this argument isn't exactly watertight.

Regardless, GoodHire found that workers won't allow themselves to be strong-armed into returning to the office either: 45% of US workers surveyed said they would quit their job immediately or begin searching for a new, remote job if they were forced by their employer to return to the office full-time.

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Nearly a quarter of respondents specifically stated they would quit immediately if their bosses imposed return-to-work orders. Overall, 74% of workers surveyed said they would require some sort of remote working allowance to keep them in their current job.

This could pose problems for companies looking to grow -- or even retain -- their technical headcount amid growing skills shortages in tech, and a workforce increasingly weighing up other options after working through a pandemic.

According to a recent survey by CWJobs, less than a third of technology workers plan to stay with their current employers for the next 12 months. Research in May by Personio, an HR software firm, revealed similar findings: 38% of workers in the UK & Ireland plan to change roles within the year, it found.

GoodHire's findings also echo research this month from PwC, which found that 65% of employees are currently looking for a new job, up from 36% in May. Executives are also seeing higher than usual turnover, the study found.

GoodHire's COO, Max Wesman, noted that the current economic climate meant tech workers held a strong negotiating position when it came to employment options. "Our survey shows that many Americans are willing to take pay cuts and some are even prepared to give up benefits for the privilege of working anywhere, but fortunately for them, the current economic environment shows they can have their cake and eat it too," Wesman told ZDNet. 

"Given that digital skills are already in demand and competition for tech workers is expected to be tight, employers who don't offer or allow remote working options for their employees and new hires are presumably going to have their skilled workers looking elsewhere," said Wesman.  

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GoodHire found that 85% of US workers would actively seek out remote working or hybrid working options when applying for a job -- suggesting that companies offering remote working opportunities stand a better chance of attracting and retaining skilled workers than those that insist on deskbound working.

Just under three-quarters (74%) of survey respondents told GoodHire they believed that companies would lose major talent if they didn't offer remote working options, while 64% believed companies would have to offer higher starting salaries if remote working wasn't on offer.

"We're already seeing fierce competition for tech talent across America as the sector is thriving juxtaposed against a growing skills shortage in tech. More startups and tech companies have moved from the Bay Area or established their HQ outside of Silicon Valley and are busy hiring both local and remote workers," said Wesman.

"If companies start penalizing employees who prefer to work remotely by cutting their pay, they will jeopardize their chances of attracting the best talent."

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