Remote workers say they'd return to the office if they get housing benefits—and many would even take those over a pay raise

It’s an all-time terrible moment in history to be looking to buy a house. But for bosses, that means it’s an all-time opportune moment to help workers out—and if you’re looking for ways of sweetening a return-to-office deal, this might be the ticket. 

According to a January 2024 survey of over 1,000 workers and bosses by insurance firm JW Surety Bonds, nearly half (47%) of respondents said they’d return to their offices if their company offered them housing benefits. 

Plus, nearly 7 in 10 (69%) are so desperate for employer-sponsored housing benefits, they said they’d change a job—or even their whole career path—in order to work at a firm that offers them. That’s an indictment of the housing market, to be sure, but it’s also a statement of just how much an office return is still used as a bargaining chip. 

Housing is the perennial white whale, given how many buyers are bereft at the dearth of affordable options. No wonder so many workers are willing to make drastic changes in order to secure any company-sponsored help they can get. Nearly half of workers would even be open to living in a “company town,” JW Surety Bonds found, where most of their neighbors would be coworkers and managers. 

More than 2 in 5 of respondents told JW Surety Bonds they’d sacrifice up to 15 days of vacation time in order to get help with home buying costs; almost a third said they’d even rather get housing help than a raise—and that’s during a historic cost of living crisis when most salaries are barely keeping pace with inflation at all.

Some firms are already getting in on the action. A quarter of employer respondents told JW Surety Bonds they’ll consider offering housing benefits this year—an average of just over $6,000 per worker—specifically as a means of improving mental wellbeing, and of course, a tool for luring workers back to their desks.

Flexible work’s impact on housing

The housing crisis can’t quite be separated from the remote-work revolution. Over the past few years, as swaths of workers gradually moved farther and farther away from their offices, “donut cities” have begun to develop around major metro areas. Those are defined as a sizable increase in population in suburbs within commuting distance of downtowns, where workers can ideally reap the benefits of extra space without racking up too far a commute. 

“Hybrid working is radically reshaping the geography of work,” Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG said in a recent statement. “Suburbs [and] rural communities everywhere are being revitalized and this trend will continue to accelerate over the coming years.”

Indeed, such benefits would be a game changer for super commuters, a handful of whom told Fortune last year that a combination of housing unaffordability and hybrid work has pushed them over two hours door-to-door from their employers. Among employees hired last year, the average distance from home to work is 35 miles—up from 10 miles in 2019—per a recent Stanford study. 

As with benefits like transit reimbursement, asynchronous work and ample paid time off, housing benefits—unsurprisingly—improve morale. Nearly 4 in 5 (77%) workers who have long received housing-assistance perks from their employers reported high job satisfaction to JW Surety Bonds. They also reported improved overall well-being and productivity, which should be companies’ goals all along. For those whose companies don’t offer the benefit, that percentage reporting high satisfaction fell to 60%. 

But despite the evidence, most companies remain slow on the uptake. Just 13% of respondents told JW Surety Bonds they’re receiving housing assistance of any kind from their employer. It’s high time for them to get on board, if they’re hoping to retain talent down the line.

Many employees relocated during the pandemic, LynnAnn Brewer, an executive advisor at HR consultancy McLean & Company, recently told Fortune’s Sydney Lake, and return-to-office mandates have thrown a wrench in many of their plans. “Leaders must practice empathy and flexibility throughout the return process to mitigate the risks of losing talent or damaging employee engagement and employer reputation.”

An extra few thousand bucks wouldn’t hurt, either.

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