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Should employees take a pay cut for working from home?

Diane Hall


Black women with laptop and smart phone remote working

I’ve seen posts on forums from both employers and employees suggesting that remote jobs, when advertised in the future, should offer a lower wage than similar positions fulfilled by someone physically present in the workplace.

The argument is that employees who commute have to fork out travel and petrol costs, which remote workers don’t have to do—and that this isn’t fair.

I can imagine this topic will divide opinion, though I can see both sides of the coin. I find commuting not just expensive in comparison, it’s also an ordeal—what with the sheer amount of traffic on the roads, train/bus delays, getting through crowds of fellow commuters, and the British weather to battle (this might be just my opinion).

Homeworkers do have costs to meet that their office-based colleagues don’t, such as extra heating costs. A bigger electricity bill to run their laptop. They’ll use more water from extra toilet flushes and as they boil the kettle numerous times during the day. These extras may not equate to the high cost of fuel or public transport fees, but it’s still extra expense that an office worker wouldn’t have to pay.

A recent survey showed that this suggestion is being taken seriously. 61% of those questioned would agree to a pay cut if it meant they could continue to work from home. Though finances are a consideration, the freedom, autonomy and work/life balance of homeworking appealed to many people during lockdown and they’re seemingly in no rush to give it up.

female professional accepting a promotion

female professional accepting a promotion
 businesspeople with male and female signs on scales of justice

The homeworker vs. office worker distinction could become even more divisive when it comes to choosing people for promotion. Already there are numerous people in the public eye who have warned that employees could face stagnant careers if they continue to work remotely. Economist Catherine Mann believes women are particularly at risk of not getting ahead. She said, ‘Difficulty accessing childcare and pandemic-related disruption to schooling meant many women are continuing to work from home, while it’s been easier for men to return to the office. There is the potential for two tracks; there's the people who are on the virtual track and people who are on a physical track. And I do worry that we will see those two tracks develop, and we will pretty much know who's going to be on which track, unfortunately.’

A BBC survey shows that a quarter of all women working from home agree with Ms Mann, but that they’ve made their peace with the potential damage to their careers in favour of a happier, calmer and slower-paced working life that fits flexibly around all their other commitments and those of their families.

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer at Aviva, thinks that remote working could be better accepted in our society without it having any negative impact on a person’s career opportunities. She suggests that it just takes some thought and future planning and a commitment from employers that home workers will not be an afterthought. She says, ‘I think if organisations leave it up to their employees, you could have a potential situation where those with caring responsibilities, who tend to be female, tend to work from home more often, and we look back in two years and think: hang on a second, why has the gender pay gap widened? Or why are female promotions slowing down a little? It's taken us a long time to make progress on things like the gender pay gap, and I think it would be terrible if we went backwards on it.’

If you look at figures released by the ONS, this situation isn’t playing out as widely as you may think. 60% of workers are reportedly back at the office or workplace they left when the pandemic began. One in six employees who have opted to work from home for the foreseeable are exercising a hybrid approach, with some time in the workplace and some time working remotely—perhaps the best of both worlds, it could be argued.

Some people see those who have chosen to continue working from home as benefitting from a pay rise of sorts, and it begs the question whether this will breed resentment within companies. A pay cut cannot be enforced by an employer without notice, and (I would imagine) lots of legal advice and input from HR. The country faces a transition now that technology allows us to work anywhere at any time; this has been on the cards for a while, the pandemic only propelled the situation.

Whether there really will be a financial divide between home/office workers is yet to be seen. Any impact on careers, if employees remain remote, may take longer to become apparent…

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