Would you take a pay cut for more telework?

Survey reveals people really treasure work-life balance, even if it meant hypothetically less salary

Maybe the government should cut the pay of employees who insist on teleworking most of the time.

Don’t spit out your coffee. I’m kidding. But the proposition might be tempting to some employers, judging from a recent survey of nearly 17,000 adults worldwide. Ford Motor Company, whose top-end electric F-150 costs more than my first house (and weighs more), commissioned the study. It found that 52% of adults agreed they would take a 20% pay cut “to achieve a lifestyle that prioritizes quality of life.” U.S. respondents about matched that average, with 51% agreeing to the statement. Only 40% of Mexicans agreed, but 68% of Indians and 69% of Thais.

The survey revealed an age-related dynamic, though. U.S. adults agreeing with the quality-of-life proposition fell along these lines:

  • 33% of baby boomers
  • 43% of Generation X
  • 60% of Millennials
  • 56% of Generation Z

Why do I tie this to telework? Because another survey question asked people whether they agreed with this other statement, “I feel more in control of my life than I did 5 years ago.” In the U.S., 64% agreed. The worldwide average: 66%. What happened five years ago? Mass telework.

A logical question becomes: If people would forego 20% of their pay for quality of life, and quality of life is connected to teleworking, stop pestering people to return to the office. Just say, okay, telework all you want, but it’ll cost you 20%.

Of course that’s an absurd conclusion. But the survey raises some real questions. For example:

  • What do people mean by “quality of life” anyway, and is it not different for each individual?
  • Might quality of life include being at the physical location of work for any of a thousand possible reasons?
  • Does the job entail such demands that it intrudes on quality of life regardless of where work occurs?

Productivity comes up in telework discussions, and whether people produce more or less depending on where they are. In truth, the question defies answering because it depends on the type of work and the individual.

The Office of Personnel Management, in its latest report to Congress, which covered 2022, reported 87% of telework-eligible employees teleworked at least some of the time. That’s down 7% from the year before. Most of the numbers show reduction in telework  relative to the height of the pandemic. Telework is settling down to earth but at a higher plane than before the pandemic.

To my regular guest, Bob Tobias, former NTEU president and American University professor, people have tasted the control that work flexibility seems to give them. During an interview airing this morning, he noted that OPM also reported that more agencies than a year earlier met their performance goals. And that the engagement scores rose from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

“I believe the reason telework is directly linked to these positive results is very basic,” Tobias said. “Every teleworking employee from a GS-2 to a member of the SES has more control over their work day and work life. Being controlled is fundamentally different from being in control.”

Control over one’s time is certainly a component in quality of life. Telework lets people interweave personal and professional tasks over time. The agency may get eight hours work in a day, but maybe it’s over 10 or 12 clock hours.

So what about that idea of working for 20% less for a better quality of life? I doubt people mean that literally. It’s more an expression of the idea that people work only partly for money, and also for meaning, a sense of accomplishment and an infinite number of other factors. Something good for telework-averse managers to keep in mind.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By: Michele Sandiford

In 2019, 39% of U.S. federal employees were eligible for telework.

Source: OPM

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