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8 Ways to Motivate, not Mandate, Return to Office

Understanding and Driving Intrinsic Motivation for In-Person Office Engagement

Written by HRCap

October 11, 2023

Employer’s Push For Return to Office (RTO)

With the new year fast approaching, employers have been actively pushing for return to office (RTO). Many employers have instituted RTO policies because their remote workers have reported on reduced team collaboration, impaired working relationships, and a disconnect with the culture.

90% of U.S. companies plan to implement RTO policies by the end of 2024. However, more than half of employees still aren’t in the office full-time, while a third are in hybrid remote setups.

Employees’ Pushback Against Return to Office

Many employees are actively pushing back against RTO policies. Earlier this year in Seattle, hundreds of Amazon employees walked out in protest against the company’s RTO mandates. Thousands of Disney employees also signed a petition asking the CEO to reconsider the company’s RTO policy. 68% of employees said they would rather look for a new job than return to the office, while this number is higher among Generation Z workers (79%).

With an overwhelming amount of remote workers against returning to the office, we must assess why the workforce is pushing back. By knowing why the employees are opposed to returning to the office, employers can customize their strategy to motivate, not mandate, employees back into the office.

1. Change in Employee Job Expectations

During the pandemic when remote work became widespread, many employee job expectations shifted to prioritize work-life balance and flexibility. In 2023, 45% of job seekers were seeking “work-life balance and flex time, vacation time, an increase of 15% from the previous year.

2. Lack of Workplace Connection

Remote workers also oppose going into the office due to the lack of opportunities to connect with others. 84% of employees would be motivated to go in if they could socialize with coworkers.

3. Costly Commute Expenses

Remote employees also want to continue working from home because of the draining commute time and expenses. On average commuters in the U.S. spend $8,466 on their commute every year and an average of 239 hours each year, which is nearly 20 hours each month.

4. Decreased Day Care Facilities

Many remote-working parents find it challenging to return to the office because of childcare. This is a major concern, especially since 35% of childcare centers that were closed during the pandemic became permanently closed for various staffing and financial reasons.

5. Increased Pet Ownership

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 25% of U.S. households have become pet owners. As a result, 75% of remote workers report wanting (and needing) to stay home with their pets instead of returning to the office.

8 Meaningful Ways to Drive Intrinsic Motivation for RTO

With various reasons for wanting to work from home, employers may need to provide unique incentives since 73% of employers say they need a better reason than just company expectations.

Employers should carefully consider the following strategies to intrinsically motivate and encourage workers to return to the office.

1. Focus on Social Connections

Building relationships with colleagues on a daily basis is an important element that has been lost through remote work. According to one survey, 57% of employees say that having a “work best friend” impacts their job by making it more enjoyable.

Companies should consider facilitating events or luncheons that will provide quality time for employees to network and socialize with their colleagues. In fact, 30% of employees say they want a space to eat, socialize, and spend time with colleagues at work. Having the time and space to interact with coworkers is essential in driving in-person engagement and ongoing teamwork.

2. Make Commuting Easier

With the rising commuting expenses, employers should consider providing benefits that would alleviate the commute costs.

Companies can offer a Commuter Benefits Program, which allows eligible employees to set aside pre-tax money to cover transit and parking expenses up to $300. Depending on the state, some employers may be required to offer commuter benefits to their workers. An alternative solution is to reimburse employees for their commuting expenses. Companies can also consider providing discounted auto insurance or special pricing and promotions to buy a car.

Additionally, employers can provide a corporate shuttle bus system that will not only save money for commutes but also benefit the environment by reducing carbon emissions.

3. Align with Corporate Social Responsibility

Providing incentives that align with corporate values can be a great way to intrinsically motivate employees. By having a purposeful incentive, employers can make the return to the office more meaningful and valuable to everyone.

[Related: Corporate Social Responsibility: Making Purpose-Driven Models]

For instance, Salesforce, a cloud-based software company, launched a fundraising initiative called Connect for Good. For each day an employee went into the office from June 12 to June 23, the company would donate $10 to a local charity, up to a maximum donation of $2.5 million.

4. Offer Additional Benefits (Childcare and Petcare)

Employers should also take into consideration the few people who want to come into the office but physically can’t due to health concerns or childcare. Offering childcare benefits can make it easier for working parents to return to the office. 38% of employees said that their companies’ assistance with childcare expenses would be a key factor in whether they stay at their job or not. In addition to providing financial assistance with childcare expenses, companies can also offer other childcare support, such as access to on-site childcare, summer camp and tutoring programs, and flexible work arrangements and hours.

With increasing pet ownership, employers can also consider offering additional benefits to pet owners by creating a pet-friendly office. 90% of employees in pet-friendly workplaces feel highly connected to their company’s mission. Additionally, employers can support by including pet insurance as a voluntary employee benefit, which 19% of employers offer in 2023.

5. Provide Learning Development Opportunities

Employers should also encourage and offer more in-person learning development opportunities, which 61% of workers say is an important reason to stay at their jobs. These learning and development opportunities can be in the form of mentorship, networking, and training workshops. Having a variety of in-person learning opportunities can meaningfully increase RTO participation.

6. Hire Inspirational Empathetic Leaders

Having empathetic leaders who can inspire and empower employees is also important in making the workplace much more inviting. 85% of employees said that a good manager was important for their workplace happiness, which is increasingly important when driving in-person attendance. Employees are more likely to return to the office if they have a good manager, someone who provides timely feedback, encouragement, and support, unlike a bad manager.

7. Conduct Cultural Competency Training

With increasing cultural diversity, employers should proactively build a more inclusive work environment. This is especially important for the 76% of employees and job seekers who said diversity was important when considering job offers. However, making diverse hires is not enough because many employees do not truly feel comfortable going into the office due to a lack of cultural sensitivity, inclusivity, and respect. Therefore, employers should hold cultural competency training to create an inclusive environment that makes it comfortable for everyone to work in the office.

8. Reward Financially

With the accumulation of rising living expenses and commuting expenses, employers can also help provide greater financial incentives to employees. 62% of employees preferred money as an incentive that would make them more willing to work in a physical workplace. Employers can provide incentives such as bonuses or promotions that are dependent on in-office attendance, which can motivate those who prioritize their financial stability, time, and resources.


While every worker has a unique intrinsic motivation for growth, workplace happiness, and career success, they also have different motivations for not wanting to return to the office.

By truly understanding employees’ motivations and why they are pushing back against RTO, companies can better empathize with the workforce and know how to motivate, not mandate, the employees to return to the office. Returning to the office is not that simple, but taking the time to understand employees and providing incentives can make it easier for everyone.

Sources: HRCap, Glassdoor, CNBC, USA TODAY, Forbes, Reuters, SHRM, Jobvite, Microsoft, Bankrate, McKinsey, ASPCA, Business Insider, Wildgoose, Fortune, PR Newswire, Gallup, People Management


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