Is The Cost of Living Crisis Pushing People Back to the Office?

By Andrew Willis
06 Sep 2022

As the cost of living crisis worsens, and the colder months creep ever closer, some staff are considering a workplace return. Is this the start of a larger trend, or is it a temporary shift that’ll go away once we hit Spring 2023?

In the same way the coronavirus pandemic altered the working landscape, the cost of living crisis promises to deliver a similar shift. Time will tell how long the effects will last.

Let’s start by looking at one of the biggest companies in the world, and how the shift may not be entirely down to the cost of living crisis…


apple return to work


Apple’s return to work plan

The tech giant recently told its employees they must come back to the office for at least three days a week. The intention was to improve “in-person collaboration”, as Apple believe that teamwork thrives through face-to-face work.

This argument isn’t without its merits. A recent study conducted by Owl Labs found that just under 30% of British office workers find it hard to build relationships with remote colleagues. This feeds through to management too. 59% of managers polled said they were more likely to engage with those who were physically in work.

While the Apple plan may be logical, it has also seen fierce pushback. A petition has been created to ask senior leadership to reconsider their position. Apple staff have raised concerns as staff asking for flexible arrangements usually have compelling reasons for their requests, such as:

  • Family care
  • Disabilities
  • Environmental concerns
  • Financial considerations

The Apple case sets a precedent for companies who are thinking of making a similar move. It also demonstrates that the cost of living is not the only factor leading to a return the office. A shift towards “normality” following the pandemic is something many employers are looking for. But perhaps not the main one…

The cost of living

With the UK’s energy price cap poised to increase to £3,549 this year, it’s no wonder people are looking for any way to reduce energy bills.

One of the ways people are looking to do this is spend less time at home and more time in the workplace. The critical point will be when it becomes cheaper for staff to commute to work than heat their homes during the day. For some, this point may never come. It really comes down to the length of the commute, and the method of transport. Another factor that will determine the balance, is how big the employee’s residence is. In general terms, the bigger and older the house is, the more costly it will be to heat. As older staff are more likely to live in these residences, it may be them who are looking to return to work…

An ageing workforce

Economic activity amongst the over-50s is at its highest since the pandemic began. More than half of the increase was driven by men over the age of 65.

What is the reasoning behind this move?

The pandemic forced many into a position of homeworking, or relative freedom with furlough. As a result, older employees had the chance to evaluate their priorities. Some found that they wanted to go into retirement when lockdown lifted, others felt they had no choice other than to leave the workforce and some were made redundant due to COVID.

Now, two years later, many older individuals are finding they like to keep busy, or miss the social interactions of everyday work life. The loss of structure and purpose can be disorientating. Add the cost of living crisis into the mix, and you have a perfect storm for a return to work.

With some older workers fearful that they won’t be able to heat their homes this winter, extra income seems a sensible choice. As a result, many are coming out of retirement to return to the workplace.


cost of living retirement and return to work


The cost of living return to work – trend or foe?

For some employers, it may come as a welcome relief to have more staff back in the office. However, there are issues to consider. For example, if you’ve adapted your workplace to accommodate a flexible workforce, you might find space a major problem. Too many people and too few desks or workspaces, might mean you have to make some difficult financial decisions.

Then, there are the retirees who are coming out of retirement to consider. According to Ageing Better, over a third of all workers in the UK are aged 50 or over. While this isn’t a bad thing, many businesses are underprepared to accommodate older workers. For example, if an employee hasn’t been in the workplace for several years, they may require retraining or re-skilling.

Also, older workers who have accidents at work are more likely to suffer serious or more fatal injuries as a result. The rate of fatal injuries by age group is highest among workers who are aged 65 or over according to the latest HSE data.

Need help managing a staff return to work?

If you have staff returning to the workplace, and have concerns regarding the transition, you can get support from an expert HR consultant.

Our advisors deal with HR processes on a daily basis, and have advised thousands of companies across the UK regarding their workforce.

Speak to a consultant today by calling 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in employment law, HR and commercial legal advice for small & large organisations across the United Kingdom.