Should You Pay People to Come to the Office?

March 29, 2022
March 29, 2022 Jamie Notter

I came across this article from the BBC about how companies are providing incentives for employees to go back into the office. The incentives range from free breakfasts and happy hours on Mondays and Fridays, to literally giving away a Tesla or a vacation to Barbados, to paying people who come to the office higher salaries. This is an important issue, so here’s my advice:

Stop it.

If you are incentivizing people to come into the office, you are missing the point of what is happening right now, and you are sending your culture down what might be an irreversible path to mediocrity. Your message is clear: we don’t care what employees want, and we are happy to use the resources we have at our disposal to coerce people to do what they don’t want to do, because it makes more sense to senior management. Congratulations, you sound a lot like a factory in the early 1900s.

Furthermore, you haven’t told me WHY we need to be back in the office. The PR agency that lures employees with free breakfasts and happy hours says it’s to “aid in collaboration and creativity.” Really? How does me sitting next to someone who is also currently on a zoom call aid in our collaboration? Or we’re told it’s the watercooler conversations (Maddie already debunked that one) or that we need to make eye contact with people (so I guess you’re saying that people with visual disabilities can’t collaborate?).

The one thing this pandemic made clear is that we all think collaboration is super important—yet none of us really understands what collaboration is and how it works in a detailed way.

Right now we have a fantastic opportunity to up our collaboration game. We should take this time to parse out the specific elements of planned versus organic collaboration, and in-person versus virtual. We could build a new model for collaborating that is more intentional about what pieces happen where, when, with whom, and for what purpose. Yes, being together in-person is an important piece of this puzzle. But stop holding up that one piece and marveling at it. Instead, let’s put it together with the others into a beautiful picture and move forward.

Or, alternatively, we could just tempt people with bagels so they come in on Mondays and then hope they collaborate. Let me know how that works out for you.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.