‘Return to the office or QUIT’, Manchester United tells staff

The club has made a big play for the return to office, by offering employees who want to work remotely a cash bonus if they resign.

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Manchester United F.C. boss, Sir Jim Ratcliffe has offered remote workers an early bonus if they resign by next Wednesday, in the club’s latest efforts to force staff to return to the office.

The Red Devils had told employees to be back in the workplace full-time by 1 June. After an unenthusiastic response, the club yesterday emailed teams to confirm that anyone who does not comply with the new rules can quit within the next week and receive a four-figure payout.

According to The Guardian, the email read: “We are aware that a number of colleagues prefer not to commit to this new way of working and are keen to understand their options.

“With this feedback in mind and the fact that we respect each colleague’s right to choose their approach to work, we will allow those who wish to resign now to claim their bonus early for this season if they cannot work from our offices from 1 June.”

Red card for remote work

Manchester United claims its latest HR policy is not designed to force remote teams to quit. The Guardian reports that a spokesperson for United has stressed “this isn’t a voluntary redun­dancy programme.”

“The club recognises that not everyone wants to work from the office full‑time so has provided options for staff who don’t wish to return to the office to step away now,” they added.

However, by incentivising remote staff who leave the club with a cash bonus, Ratcliffe – who is Manchester United’s minority owner – is effectively launching a two-pronged attack on remote work. Come back to the office full-time or resign, appears to be the email’s subtext.

Manchester United’s missive is only the latest in a series of ramped up efforts by UK employers to mandate a return to office (RTO) and deter home working.

Dell Technologies is one such employer. After its new office work ‘incentive’ was unveiled in an internal memo, Dell staff were told they must work in the office at least three days a week or lose out on “career advancement” such as promotions and pay rises.

Will employees play along?

With Manchester United’s latest RTO measure, the ball is now firmly in its workforce’s corner. It’s unclear how many team members will choose to take the cash bonus.

Research has shown that many business managers are ignoring RTO mandates, due to the popularity of flexible working benefits among workers. Should the decision lead to a mass walk-off from employees, it could be an own goal for Ratcliffe.

However, Ratcliffe has already signalled that he plans to trim his employee base. He has previously suggested that remote staff are less productive, citing email statistics as proof.

Efficiency is on everyone’s minds as firms grapple with poor trading conditions. Many large companies have made layoffs to keep staffing costs down, including Meta. Perhaps Ratcliffe sees a shrunken team of office workers as more cost-effective than employing remote staff.

Our research would disagree with this hypothesis. In a survey of 546 UK SMEs, we found that 38% of in-office firms cut jobs last year, versus 16% of remote teams, suggesting that home working policies are actually more likely to lead to healthy business performance.

Flexible working on the rise

With all the headlines about organisations threatening a return to the office, it is easy to forget that flexible working is still on the rise among UK workplaces.

In the same survey by Startups, two thirds of SMEs reported plans to extend flexible working in 2024. More than 10% said they would increase the number of days staff work at home.

SMEs tend not to be weighed down by expensive rent payments and other related office costs, meaning they can be more flexible when it comes to employee benefits such as out-of-office working.

While large employers become stricter about when and where people work, our findings suggest that job seekers who want to find remote employment should seek out opportunities at smaller, more agile companies, such as startups.

Indeed, many workers could be tempted away from the big business leagues if the war on remote work continues.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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