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Flexibility in form of hybrid work schedule dominates perks offered as workers return to office

Employees are being enticed with new perks as they return to office 02:06

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As workers return to or start new jobs in offices, companies are getting creative in offering new perks to lure them in.

As CBS 2's Tara Molina reported Monday, the perk topping the list is flexibility – a hybrid work schedule with only some days, or some hours, back in the office. We are told that model is here to stay for many in Chicago.

The incentives for employees are coming as the return to work coincides with the great resignation.

"One of the challenges right now is how can companies face the tight labor market, the great resignation, and continuing waves of the pandemic while also trying to bring workers back into the office," said Ben Friedrich, a strategy professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. 

Some pre-pandemic perks are now perks of the past.

"Is it so attractive to offer just free food at the office again?" Friedrich said. "Maybe not."

Friedrich studies such trends. He noted that one of the new and popular benefits he's seen employers offering is an employee sabbatical.

"That's what some companies are really kind of trying to sell as another opportunity. You know, you might be ready to come back to work now, but you might worry that you're going to miss that type of flexibility that you had during the pandemic to some extent, and so taking these natural breaks; creative breaks, I think, is another piece that companies are considering."

Number one on every list, again, is flexibility.

"The stigma remote had before the pandemic isn't there anymore," Friedrich said.

The flexibility is most commonly appears as a hybrid schedule - working from home one or more days a week.

"Some industries would consider some degree of remote work the new standard. It's a given," Friedrich said, "and so if you don't follow suit in that sense, it's going to be hard to win."

Jobs expert Andy Challenger, of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, agrees.

"Some amount of flexibility is here to stay," he said.

Challenger says specifically in Chicago, his firm is seeing a focus on education and transportation.

"An increase in student tuition, so for younger employees that are still looking to move forward in their career, companies want to show there investing in them," Challenger said.

Stipends for transportation are also becoming commonplace.

"A number of companies offer CTA or Metra passes to their employees to reduce the cost burden of coming in," Challenger said.

Another post-pandemic perk that Challenger, Gray & Christmas is tracking are

pet stipends - money for dog sitters or walkers - and dog-friendly office environments.

"A lot of new puppy adoptions, a lot of new animals in homes, and so companies are trying to adapt to that by offering stipends," Challenger said.

"I think it's a great way to show workers that the company cares," Friedrich said.

We are also told many companies are relaxing dress codes.

Four-day work weeks are also gaining traction internationally as the ultimate form of flexibility, but the experts we talked to said they don't know of any Chicago companies testing that out yet.

Whatever the case, Challenger said employers are struggling to recruit people for work – and they are finding they need to offer more than they once did.

"Employers are still having a really hard time filling in-person job roles. We saw a recent poll- nearly 42 percent of companies are having a hard time filling those roles," he said. "Inflation is going up. The cost of commuting is rising. It's making it more and more difficult for people to come into the office. So offering a free lunch or bagels on Fridays doesn't seem to be enough." 

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