35

Our workplace decided that to support the economy we needed to be back in the office and therefore reduce our time working from home. They are very firm on this policy and very touchy about any criticism of it.

After that, they said that due to hard financial times we would need to do more work to help the company.

Since I am losing around 8-10 hours a week commuting and the office is open plan I am likely to get less work done, not more. Is there a polite way to tell them that?

If it helps, my fellow workmates who are also being pressed into this also seem less productive.

The contract sadly does not say work is remote and is vague enough that I can't do much. Country is the UK. I agreed on an informal agreement to work from home because the money was good.

2
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on The Workplace Meta, or in The Workplace Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 23 at 9:06
  • Have executives taken a pay cut? If not, they're not that interested in "helping the company".
    – Nelson
    Commented Apr 30 at 1:29

11 Answers 11

64

I am losing around 8-10 hours a week going to and from the office,

This is going to be a problem. In pretty much all jurisdictions, the commute time comes out of your pocket, not the company's. The expectation is clearly that you still put your 40 hours (or whatever it is) of worktime in. That, of course, sucks for you since now your work week is up to 50 hours which was not your initial expectation.

This is a fundamental problem and unlikely to get resolved so you should prepare yourself to either make your peace with it or look elsewhere. Frankly, if they are hard nosed about "back to office" and are in poor financial condition, looking elsewhere seems a very reasonable choice here.

Is there a polite way to say that per their new policies, I am not likely to be more productive but less?

At that point, you have nothing to left to lose, so I wouldn't beat around the bush here. Just tell them what you told us. You can add that commute plus extra effort increases your work week by 25%+ percent (or whatever the actual number is), which isn't long term sustainable for you.

If your coworkers feel the same way, you can maybe align your messaging with them. The prospect of a mass exodus or revolt is a real threat to a company especially if they are already in financial trouble.

10
  • 3
    You can shorten your commute by moving closer to the office, or possibly by shifting your working hours to involve less rush hour travel. If by changing to a company whose office is closer to where you want to live. Or you could do something enjoyable with the commute time -- audiobooks, for example.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 20 at 4:19
  • 39
    @keshlam I worked at places in London where a million pound would not quite buy you a one bedroom flat in walking distance. A nice flat, but over a million pound. Now if my wife has a job as well, do you think we should separate so we can both be close to our work places?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 20 at 13:53
  • 8
    I am confused by (how) this answer (was accepted). The way I understand the question, the issue at hand is not that the commute to the office adds time on top of the 40h (or whatever) the OP is contractually obliged to work for; time that is the OP's own time. This is inconvenient and undesirable to the OP, but the concrete situation from the Q is that "due to hard financial times we would need to do more work", i.e. increase the 40h working time, unrelated to the commuting time. And this is what the OP says they cannot do if they also have the commuting time. How is this answered here? Commented Apr 21 at 10:13
  • 10
    @O.R.Mapper - The question describes a workplace problem and the answer says that OP's analysis of their options is correct and that this type of problem is typically resolved through the job market. Commented Apr 21 at 11:01
  • 21
    @TimothyAWiseman "Also, for some people changing houses is a bigger challenge with more transaction costs than changing jobs..." - That's about what I once told an employer that tried to pressure me into insane work hours: "I'm a Nerd. For me it's easier to find another job than another wife." - they didn't bother me thereafter.
    – Fildor
    Commented Apr 22 at 6:54
77

that due to hard financial times we would need to do more work to help the company

That alone is a reason to find a new job. The signs are there. This company is going under and you are unhappy with the conditions. What more are you waiting for? Foreclosure of the office building?

If you don't like the conditions, say no to anything not in your contract and find a new job as soon as possible.

12
  • 1
    Finding a new job sadly will take time if I want a similar salary.
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Apr 19 at 16:32
  • 80
    Well, then it's better to start looking now, instead of down the road when the company has to lay off people. A good job is easier to find when you are the only candidate on the market, not you and your dozen colleagues that all have the same experiences and skillset.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Apr 19 at 17:32
  • 10
    Does "more work to help the company" amount to a request for unpaid overtime? If yes, that's a problem. If not, it's a bit of an empty request... Commented Apr 20 at 6:48
  • 3
    @NepeneNep If the new job is working from home, you wouldn't even need the same salary. Saving money on commuting etc.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 20 at 13:50
  • 4
    It's also possibly a lie. Companies will happily do whatever it takes to get people to work more and reduce head count. They might be having trouble keeping the business afloat or they might just want more profit. Either way a new job sounds like a good idea. Commented Apr 22 at 10:00
18

For the purposes of this, you can forget the WFH part. What matters is

due to hard financial times we would need to do more work to help the company and such.

You don't need to.

You signed a contract, and that's it. You can choose to do more work, but that's your choice. If the company wants to issue you with a new contract putting the new amount of hours in writing, they can do that, sure - but you can also hold out on a proportionate salary increase.

If you think the company's going to survive, you can have that salary increase postdated in 6 months. Or it could be in the form of a defined bonus to be paid after the work - I've been on a team where we had that happen.

If the company is in genuine financial trouble though, employees are a very long way down the list of who gets paid when it goes into administration. It's quite likely that you'd do all this work and then get stiffed on a month's salary. Be wary of how much you trust management on this, because them telling you the truth in that kind of situation is literally a gross-misconduct immediate-firing situation for them, and may even be illegal in a publicly-traded company. They literally can't tell you how bad it is, otherwise it'd be their neck.

Not all companies properly get WFH

After COVID, my company wound down its WFH policy to 2 days a week. This was a pain for the software engineers who had demonstrated over that time that we were far more productive at home. I had a conversation with my manager where I said explicitly that if I was working from home then he'd get at least an extra hour a day from me, whereas in the office I'd be leaving pretty much on the clock. Near as I can remember, those were the exact words. He said he appreciated that, but that was the policy. So now they get my contracted hours.

9
  • 2
    It's great when your employer is legally required to not tell you the truth. Commented Apr 20 at 13:08
  • 2
    In the UK (where this question is set) employees are actually very high on the list of creditors. See theinsolvencyexperts.co.uk/blog/…. Only [Secured creditors with a fixed charge] have higher priority Commented Apr 21 at 7:58
  • 4
    @RichardTingle You're below taxes, and you're below all loans to banks or VCs who you can be sure have secured loans. That often (in practise, almost always) doesn't leave enough to cover wages. The only people lower down the list are suppliers, and that's why suppliers normally refuse to give credit if there's any suspicion of financial issues.
    – Graham
    Commented Apr 21 at 9:32
  • 1
    "but you can also hold out on a proportionate salary increase" There's a reason overtime is often listed as time and a half (or increased by other factors). Working more hours significantly increases the impact on the worker for every extra hour, leading to a generally higher wage demand to go alongside it. I'm not saying OP can reliably get the company to agree to an above-proportional wage increase, but I am saying that OP shouldn't necessarily be happy with an exactly proportional wage increase either.
    – Flater
    Commented Apr 22 at 6:13
  • @Flater "Proportionate" not "proportional". :) I agree, you negotiate for what your free time is worth.
    – Graham
    Commented Apr 22 at 7:06
15

Jobs are in constant flux

If this is your first job, "jumping ship" before you are pushed may seem like a big and dangerous step.

But be assured, you're going to be changing jobs yearly. Not necessarily changing employers yearly, but your role will change, or there'll be a reorg and you'll be given a new manager, or they'll pull crap like they're pulling now. Regardless, it's not the same job any more, even if it's the same contract.

When that happens, it's important to ask yourself "If I were applying for jobs right now, is this a role I would have any interest in?"

Recognizing red flags

Once you've worked a few places, you'll learn to recognize the "red flags" that mean a workplace is about to turn to utter shit, and become a place you would not apply to work. Update your CV/resume.

You have been given multiple red flags here.

Trajectory-related red flags

When they reduce the snacks in the breakroom, or start charging for the sodas, or declare a "hiring freeze", or otherwise start trimming the fat in "efficiency drives", it doesn't in itself mean "you would no longer apply to work at this place", but it shows you the trajectory of the workplace is downwards, and you might get laid off before you even apply elsewhere. Update your CV/resume.

  • Citing "hard financial times".
  • Increased workload rather than increased hiring.
  • RTO (Return To Office) orders may be an effort to get some resignations, saving them from redundancy payments.

A downward financial trajectory can be recovered from. That's their whole point of having an efficiency drive. But it tells you that they're in a dive that they might not pull out of, and in general I'd say that "weathering the storm" may not be as effective for your career as transferring to another company that's still on an upward trajectory, and taking the pay raise that job-hops always grant.

It's also often the case that bet-tightening is a step on the way to selling the company: a way to make the company look more healthy, like a sportsman going to a sauna to sweat off some weight before a weigh-in. Buyouts and takeovers are usually accompanied by layoffs: in the EU, usually 99 people a year will get laid off (because otherwise they need to give more compensation). UK used to be the same, not sure any more.

Bad management red flags

Bad management is something that cannot be recovered from other than by shedding the management. It WILL turn to shit if they don't go. Fixing management will only usually happen by the company being bought out, and even then the middle management will still stay, and will continue to make bad recommendations, so the rot will carry on under the new upper management anyway. Update your CV/resume.

  • Open plan office (all studies point to a 15% reduction in productivity).
  • They're "very touchy" about criticism.
  • Transparent lying and bullshit, eg "to support the economy" excuses.
  • RTO (Return To Office) orders.

Update your CV/resume.

Update your CV/resume. Trade away your company stock. Get active on LinkedIn. Make sure your Indeed account is active. Take days off for interviews even if you're not absolutely sure you want to jump. You will be rusty at jobhunting and will need the practice. Brush up on interview coding exercises or whatever field you're in.

It's up to you whether you inform your manager that you can see the writing on the wall and are looking for another job because you've taken an effective 25-35% pay cut in hourly wage(*). They might agree, or not. They might offer you better pay, or not. Do you really want a 10+ hour day even with better pay? Decide ahead of time what level of pay raise would make it all worth it? If 0%, then you're good for now, but update your CV/resume anyway, because layoffs may be coming.

It may be worth casually mentioning that you wouldn't object to being laid off, if that's true, so they'll consider you if they're required to cut headcount. Otherwise you might miss out on a redundancy package.

Update your CV/resume.

(* Assuming old requirements = 40hrs, and new requirements = 40hrs + 10 hrs commute + say 0-4 hrs of "more work", that's then 25-35% more time, for no equivalent raise in pay. And yes, a 25-35% pay cut would technically need 13-22 hrs extra, and the actual hourly pay cut for a 25-35% increase in time spent is only 20-26%, but nobody cares about math nowadays.)

4
  • What do you mean by "35-35% pay cut"?
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 22 at 8:52
  • 2
    A couple of red flags I've noticed during my career: Starting to monitor printing to see how much paper we're really using; Managers talking down non-existent rumors of layoffs. Demanding regular, scheduled, unpaid overtime from everyone...
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 22 at 12:59
  • 2
    Re "When they reduce the snacks in the breakroom": At the same time as spending countless millions on useless expensive consultants who charge from the very second they leave home on their two-hour commute. Commented Apr 29 at 16:29
  • 2
    Downward red flags: Keep an eye on Team Specialization Leads (lead in their field for a team, e.g. Technology Lead) and middle management. They get word before the lower ends of the ladders do, and it can be months in advance of upcoming layoffs, bad mergers, buyouts, etc. If they start quitting in multiples, you know things are going to go sour.
    – dan
    Commented May 3 at 13:45
13

Is there a polite way to say that per their new policies, I am not likely to be more productive but less?

You can try using exactly what you've told us.

Don't expect it to be successful, as people making that decisions almost certainly did so knowing that there will be pushback (would take a really extra level oblivious to not predict that) and asking is not likely to change their minds.

But explaining and asking politely shouldn't cause any harm either. You've explained your lack of productivity, and if they are happy with it, you are in the clear. Now if the job doesn't work out for you anymore, of course consider looking for another.

7
  • Right, it is good to be respectful by explaining your discontent, perhaps they will make changes. Commented Apr 19 at 14:54
  • 1
    Hopefully, the UK has employers that are more reasonable about this sort of thing than the US, where I am. In the US, I would only follow this advice if I was OK with being walked out on the spot, as OP pointed out that the company is both in financial trouble, and touchy about criticism of their RTO policy.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Apr 19 at 21:29
  • 1
    "Walked out on the spot" in the UK means they will have to pay you your salary for the notice period without getting anything for it. Usually two months. If you are walked out for not wanting overtime, you can tell them that you suspect this is very much against UK employment law, and ask them about some settlement.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 20 at 13:49
  • 1
    @GOATNine: I've had friends working in NYC. I wouldn't take those jobs unless the pay was sufficient to cover the housing cost of living within an acceptable commute. If it isn't viable, vote with your feet and look for another job, if that isn't acceptable you have made the decision to tolerate the housing cost or the commuting hassle or both. Management is rolling back from telecommuting again, again; you can't demand it unless you are willing to walk away if you don't get it and that may not solve it either.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 20 at 23:18
  • @keshlam sometimes circumstance doesn't allow you to vote with your feet. My current situation involves a 60 mile commute 1 way, 5 days a week. To change that I can either move the family, which costs quite a bit, and also hurts my wife's employment situation (she has a higher earning potential than me as well), stop working altogether, or retrain into a different field, which is what I'm doing, though it will take a few years to get transitioned.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Apr 22 at 20:27
7

Negotiate if you can. Try to find a solution that works for both sides. If they want extra work, explain you could use the time it would take you to commute (as long as the extra work is paid) if you can continue to work from home.

After that, they said that due to hard financial times we would need to do more work to help the company and such.

Generally in this situation, most of the real talent quickly leave (why would they stay?). This leaves the company understaffed with only the worst employees remaining, and that leads to more and more pressure and stress until the company eventually goes under.

If they cannot find a solution that keeps their top employees happy and motivated, you're going to be in for a very bad time if you stay.

You can't staff a company with people who can't do the job and don't want to be there while simultaneously making the working conditions worse and worse.

1
  • 1
    Maybe there should be fewer companies? Keep only the successful ones? Commented Apr 20 at 13:10
7

So the company took a huge benefit away from you, with no good reason as far as I can see, so you lose ten hours a week and a substantial amount of money. And now they want you to work extra long hours for no pay. Because they have financial problems.

There's two things. One is that obvious you should start looking for a new job. I doubt very much that your salary is competitive now. And you are on a sinking ship. Always good to jump off a sinking ship as long as at least your salary is still paid. If you have too much work and no time to apply for jobs and go for interviews: Since you have less time to apply from home, I would have not the slightest bit of a bad conscience to do that from work.

The other thing is that you need a serious talk with them. At the very least they should allow people to work from home again. It's much easier to work five hours more a week if you don't waste 10 hours on a commute. And it's much easier to do that without pay if you don't have to pay out for your commute. Not that you should accept either, but it should be made clear to the company that this would very much improve their chances.

5

UK employment contract law is a very complicated topic. But at it's heart, it appears you have two changes to your working conditions. Any change to the contract must be agreed by the employee, or it is illegal for the company to enact.

You say the working location isn't specified in the contract - that may not be too important - check the employers wording on the policy that allowed WFH. If they didn't write a policy for it, check for emails on the topic. If there's any hint of them putting qualifiers in that allowed for variation, there likely isn't much you can do about it, other than openly state you're not happy about it.

The requirement that you "work more" to help the company financial situation, however, puts the company at immense risk, legally speaking. Unfortunately you haven't qualified what "work more" means - which is probably because the company haven't been clear to you about it. This very much sounds like there are redundancies on the horizon, when the upper management targets of "more" aren't met.

As an example, I was once told "in order to guarantee the financial security of the company, we're asking everyone to reduce salary by 10%, and if we don't get everyone to agree, we might have to look at redundancies." The fair and appropriate response to that it "if you agree to reduce my hours/workload by 10%, then I'll agree to the change of my contract."

So overall, I would:

  • If you're not already a member of a union, sign up now. There's a period of time where they can't act for you, but they can still give you advice. Your contract may say you're not allowed to join a union, but that is unenforceable unless you work in a very specific type of role.
  • After you've joined the union, invite your immediate superior and company HR to a meeting with you to discuss this new policy, in private, with them. Tell them that you're not happy about being forced back to the office. Tell them that you would have been working during the time you will now have to commute, but this is now impossible. Tell them that you're worried about the "work more" and ask them what the requirement is, in detail, and ask them for tips on how you can be more productive within the contracted hours. Tell them that you're aware both of these changes might constitute a change of contract.
  • Follow up immediately after the meeting, by sending the attendees a summary email. Repeat things you said in the meeting. Repeat things you understood that they responded. Ask for a timeline for things to get answers if you're still not clear on anything.
  • While working from the office, call off at the local coffee shop just before starting your day. If you start at 9am, walk into the office at 8:59am. If anyone challenges you about it, the response is "I'm supporting the local economy." Similarly, if you finish at 5pm - be through the door at 5:01pm.
  • Unless your contract requires you to be responsive out of hours, don't answer calls, don't respond to emails whenever you aren't physically in the office.

Finally, get on LinkedIn, find recruiters that are local to you and deal with your job role. Have a conversation with them, starting with a "I'm not sure I want to move on just yet, but I want to see what the options are, at least."

1
  • 3
    "UK employment contract law is a very complicated topic. But at it's heart, it appears you have two changes to your working conditions." IANAL, but my understanding of UK employment law is that even things (e.g. benefits) not written down in contracts can become legally binding if they are consistently allowed by the employer. My wife was in a similar position several years ago where she had been given certain benefits despite being on a zero-hours contract, and as a result ended up being given a full employee contract with annual leave and maternity entitlement. Citizen's Advice may help also
    – Bladeski
    Commented Apr 22 at 9:04
3

You should think about the structure of the office in your decision to say something. Presumably you are hoping to cause a change in the policy. Just saying to your boss that you won't work 50 hours because of the commute time seems unlikely to change it, though if enough people say that it may be enough. One alternative is to just work the amount you are willing to in the current situation. It may be too much trouble to fire you for this. You might talk to your coworkers to find out their take on the situation. The advantage of not drawing a line in the sand is you can change just your behavio(u)r if circumstances change. If you see people being let go over it you can rethink and if your personal situation changes and you don't like the risk you can work more.

2

Here's an approach. You have X tasks do work in, and Y hours per day to do them in. Your Y hours needs to be a hard boundary. Don't stay late. Go home and be at your leisure when it's time to go. Don't work weekends or overnight.

However, push to your boss to prioritize which of those X tasks needs to be done in those Y hours per day. They can't all be priority one, even though bad management will try to insist on such. Revisit your boss with this prioritization step as often as you need to, but don't change your boundary.

You probably got more done as a WFH employee, but it's not going to work out the same. Your boss will notice at some point. That's not your problem, friend. A bad boss will at this point pull out all the stops to shame or scare you into working longer hours with no extra pay. The boss may compare you to others who don't practice good boundaries. Ignore that, and stick to your guns.

Here's an Indeed article that may help.

0

No one seems to have mentioned that since you work in the UK you have the right to request flexible working which includes the right to request to permanently work from home.

You can do this from day 1 of starting work, you also do not need to give a reason for this request, although it's probably helpful to do so.

You can submit your request and the business must give you an answer within 2 months.

The business must give you a valid reason from a small list defined under law to refuse the request, and they must consult with you if refusing. They also cannot prejudice against you for making the request i.e. reducing bonus/pay etc

I would suggest there are times which you should still go into the office such as: if collaborating with an office based colleague, important face to face meetings, social events etc.

More info: https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working And here: https://www.acas.org.uk/statutory-flexible-working-requests

1
  • I did this, but they can refuse for basically any reason and slap productivity on it, so it's not very useful.
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 2 at 17:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .