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Pay cuts for permanent working from home are not the answer

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic first began, employees have faced extreme disruption to their normal working lives, with many having to work from sofas, spare bedrooms, and some even having to manage home schooling children whilst desperately trying to ensure their own work is completed.

For some, the sudden switch to home working has been a welcomed changed, but for others it’s done more harm than good.

Data from the Office for National Statistics found that by mid-September – when the restrictions of the first lockdown had begun to ease – 36% of employees had yet to go back to their regular place of work, suggesting employers and their employees were in fact enjoying the benefits of homeworking.

Now, a new survey by Citrix stated that 75% of employees are ready to give up an average of 14% of their annual salaries to continue doing so – which came as a shock to me.

My concern is that we are 10 months into the pandemic, people’s lives have been in a constant state of flux, emotions are heightened and making rash decisions about our incomes will only lead to further destructions.

The financial savings of homeworking and the time gained from not commuting may seem attractive at first and worth the pay cut, but the costs are likely to be outweighed by the need for superfast broadband and higher utility bills at home.

In my opinion, the novelty – and perceived savings – may quickly disappear.

Let’s explore a potential scenario. People have been happy to make do and amend - working at the kitchen table or in back bedroom offices - but if homeworking becomes permanent then separate office space will be needed along with higher quality furniture and equipment.

I doubt employers will foot the bill for everything, leaving those now on reduced salaries to fork out what could be hundreds of pounds.

Make no mistake, I’m a big advocate of the office, it works well for me and my working preferences and I’m not saying working from home isn’t the right option for some. It has been absolutely the right approach in this time of crisis but taking a pay cut to do so long-term seems absurd.

This is especially relevant when, as a result, employers could reap a number of cost savings from decreased office requirements and rates anyway. It concerns me that those employers who expect this of employees may be companies with outdated ways of working and are seizing the opportunity to force the hand of those who want the option but can’t afford it.

This effectively forces them to forgo the privilege of working from home.

For those who can afford to take the hit, there’s another issue. While it might seem like an attractive offer, we don’t yet know the potential pitfalls and health risks of permanently working from home.

In my opinion, I fear we are storing up problems for the future. Why? Isolation and loneliness have been on the rise for years, and we haven’t yet seen the true impact that the pandemic will have on social and mental health, and organisational inclusion.

Adding financial requirements onto employees and giving them no option but to accept a pay cut is obviously going to have an effect not only on their mental and physical health but damage the organisation’s bottom line too.

Engagement and productivity will most likely decrease, we will see greater employee turnover, and isolation and loneliness will increase ever further. This is the last thing we need after successive lockdowns.

It may be a case of ‘so far so good’ but does that mean it’s right for the long-term?

Gary Butterfield is co-founder and executive director at HR, health and wellbeing firm Everyday Juice

Further reading:

Home truths: adapting to the new world of work

Furlough scheme makes pay cuts the norm

Remote working productivity predicted to decrease