If we stay remote or go in only a few times a month, do I have any right to ask my employer about reinstating/updating the transit perk? It feels greedy, but at the same time it was a spelled-out benefit of the job that saved me about $1,600 a year.
Karla: I wouldn’t call it “greedy” to want a $1,600 annual benefit reinstated. But spending priorities have changed during the epidemic, and employers tend to want to offer perks that benefit them as well as employees. Even if the funds are available, your employer probably doesn’t see much incentive in continuing to subsidize a commute you no longer have.
But you’re not alone in feeling the sting of lost benefits. In their efforts to stay afloat through the coronavirus pandemic, many employers have been cutting back on matching retirement plan contributions, bonuses, and other employee expenses deemed nonessential to their operations in the short term.
Meanwhile, some employers have increased spending on benefits that specifically address employee needs created by the pandemic, such as increased wellness and family care support, hazard pay and even incentives for getting vaccinated.
So although it seems unlikely you’ll be able to persuade your employer to reinstate the transit perk for your personal benefit, you might be able to make a case for other ways your employer can compensate for its loss — especially if, like many, you have incurred additional expenses in working from home.
In a recent study, Harvard Business School researchers found a significant increase in housing costs — what they call the “remote premium” — for employees shifting to an all-remote work environment. Naturally, that premium falls heaviest on those who can least afford it; the researchers estimated that the lowest-income households would need as much as an additional 10 percent to 15 percent added to their earnings to compensate for those increased housing costs. In another study of energy consumption trends in the early months of the pandemic, a Tufts University researcher found that while industrial and commercial electricity consumption dropped 12 percent to 14 percent, residential electrical consumption rose by 10 percent. Employers that are saving money on commercial rental and utilities by converting to an all-remote workforce might consider passing those savings to employees to help offset their increased residential housing and utilities costs.
A reader responds to the recent column about the executive assistant who did not want to be promoted (March 21, 2021):
Many online commenters seemed to assume this person was afraid of new challenges. I recently retired from 28 years in a line position in a government office. At one point I had the opportunity to become director of my division, and I declined. I never regretted that decision.
I was in a technical rather than an administrative position. My job immersed me in subject matter that I found fascinating and had gone to college and graduate school for. I saw nothing to be gained by trading that for a job that required me to supervise people and manage budgets. After a new division director was hired, I realized that I would have been miserable at those tasks and would not have performed them as well as he did.
Employees need to consider what they find personally fulfilling.
— David Vandenbroucke, Alexandria, VA
Karla: Thank you for this additional perspective. I agree, with the caveat that even the most secure-seeming workplaces can be thrown into turmoil by leadership changes or other disruptions. I would recommend that even people with specific, in-demand technical skills not become so entrenched in their current specialty that they become unable to carry their skills to a different employer, if necessary. Staying flexible and open to new opportunities is just good insurance.
Speaking of benefits, I’ll be taking some personal leave next week. Work Advice will resume April 11.