Should employers tie office attendance to employee pay and promotions?

'Employees might think this isn't the most important thing that organisations should be focusing on – attendance,' academic says

Should employers tie office attendance to employee pay and promotions?

A number of companies have been linking office attendance to pay or promotions in a bid to get employees back in the office.

ANZ bank, Suncorp and Origin Energy are among the businesses that have implemented this strategy for some of their employees, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Most employees at ANZ can spend up to half the month working remotely and if this isn’t met, it could be taken into account during performance and remuneration reviews, the report said.

At Suncorp, performance reviews would look at whether an employee has stuck to their hybrid work plan – which varies across teams, the report added.

And even Amazon integrated a return-to-office mandate in its promotion process.

“In accordance with Amazon’s overall approach to promotions, employees are expected to work from their office 3+ days/week if that is the requirement of their role,” a post on Amazon’s internal career platform, quoted by CNBC said.

In KPMG’s 2023 CEO Outlook report, “87% of CEOs say they are likely to reward employees who make an effort to come into the office with favourable assignments, raises or promotions.”

But should employers tie promotions to in-office attendance?

How mandatory attendance could impact employees

John Hopkins, associate professor of Management at Swinburne University, described how tying office attendance to promotions could impact employees.

“From a negative perspective, if somebody is doing well in their job, they're hitting all their targets, it could certainly have a detrimental effect on them personally and certainly a detrimental effect on culture within the organisation,” he told HRD Australia.

“Certainly, it could erode trust because employees might think this isn't necessarily the most important thing that organisations should be focusing on – attendance.”

In a recent report, Hopkins also described how these attendance requirements could affect demographics that tend to favour remote working, such as parents, women and people with neurodivergent needs.

“Flexible work arrangements definitely open up the job market to people who are more than capable of performing a role well but struggle to be able to attend an office five days a week,” he said. “If that is taken away, if a requirement to come to the office is enforced, that may exclude some of those people.”

Figuring out the solution for hybrid work

Hopkins acknowledged that hybrid work is “quite a new phenomenon” and some organisations are still figuring out what that means for them.

“I think that 2024 is really the year that organisations have accepted that it's here to stay and things aren't going to change,” he said. “But I'd say up to now, for a lot of firms, there probably isn't a lot of clear guidance and structure around what hybrid work actually means. And this is probably an attempt to start establishing that.”

But with hybrid work does come an expectation of spending some time in the office, Hopkins added.

“How many days that is is completely up to the different organisation and the types of roles,” he said. “We're not talking about fully remote jobs here where people are working remotely all the time and there’s no expectation of attending an office at any time.

“What we're looking at here is really finding the solution of what's going to suit the employer and the employees, and how many days that is — and not necessarily just some random number, but a number of days based on the type of work that people do and what will work well for them in an office environment.”

According to a survey of 300 hiring managers by recruitment agency Robert Half, 28% of employers required staff back in the office four days a week, while 26% expected three days a week and 19% expected five days a week.  

Consulting employees on hybrid work model

In terms of approaching hybrid working, Hopkins believes employers should focus on what their overall mission is.

“I don't think the focus should really be on getting people back just for the sake of getting them back,” he said. “I think the focus should always be on whatever the organisation does and what its vision and mission is and providing value to customers. I think that is the priority for any business.

“But I do think in terms of how they're going to leverage the hybrid work model more successfully in the future does require them to understand the type of roles and type of activities and tasks that their employees are involved in. And working out which ones of those work best in an office environment, which one of those work better remotely.”

Another important factor is employee consultation, Hopkins added.

“There's probably nothing worse than a mandate that's coming from senior management that says, ‘Hey we've decided that this number is best for everybody’, where there hasn't actually been any consultation and they haven't really heard the employee side of the story,” he said.

Further still, Hopkins believes it's important to understand why employees aren’t coming into the office.

“There may be some assumptions made around that but without actually asking employees, the firms don't know why those people don't want to come to the office,” he said.  

Finding the best solution to office attendance

Ultimately, Hopkins said there is no one right or wrong tactic or strategy when it comes to hybrid work.

“A manager's job is to really find the best solution for the circumstances they have,” he said. “And that includes the type of people they have, the type of employment that they're involved in, the type of organisation and industry that they're involved in.

“So I don't think there's any one correct right or wrong answer that would apply to all businesses. It’s really on a case by case basis. And I think only time will tell whether this kind of tactic will work for those organisations.”


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