Culture   //   November 7, 2022  ■  8 min read

How this company is encouraging employees to create in-office FOMO to entice their colleagues back

The carrot and the stick have, respectively, been dangled and wielded to tempt or force workers back to the office, with varying success. So far, neither approach has worked that well. There is limited appetite for incentives like free yoga and chai lattes, or a team lunch on Fridays. And the stick approach is spurring people to leave. Global mobility and food-delivery company Bolt has embraced a third approach: generating fear of missing out (FOMO).

Speaking during a recent round table event organized by messaging platform Slack in London, Mathis Bogens, Bolt’s head of internal communications, said he encourages staff in the office to post about having a great time on the organization’s Slack channels, to stoke jealousy in remote workers. “We use FOMO. This is the easiest way,” he said. “You just share photographs of how much fun it is to be at the office,” he said. “For example, we will go out as a team and order pints and good food, enjoy it together, and share lots of photos on Slack. So those people who decided not to come to the office don’t feel good.”

Respect from the tribe

Regardless of whether that approach does result in more people coming to the office at Bolt, it’s not one that psychologists or behavioral science experts support. Dr. Rachel Taylor, the host of The UnBroken Podcast and a neuropsychologist, explains the science of FOMO. “Human beings are the most social of all animals,” she said. “Social is not just about party, entertainment, and frivolity; social is how we interact with our environment and the people within it. Connected with that interaction is respect from the tribe/community/workplace/society with brain function and structure being central.”

When respect — or disrespect — is felt within one’s environment, the “most ancient part of the brain,” the basal ganglia, emits either an “all-is-well message or a life-or-death alert,” she said. That’s because humans are very dependent on sociality. “If we are not respected or valued by the community, we could be ousted or isolated, and we cannot function well or be well alone,” she added.

FOMO boils down to making a social comparison about how accepted into the tribe/team/community/group we are, she added. However, in a work context, FOMO is more complex. “It is not as simple to say that the ones in the office are better off or the ones who work from home are better off,” said Dr. Taylor. “If someone is satisfied with their life, if they are safe and secure in the knowledge that they are valued and accepted by their team, then they will be content to do either.”

Ayelet Fishbach, professor of behavioral science at the Chicago Booth School of Business, developed this theme. “While creating FOMO may force workers back to the office, it undermines intrinsic employee motivation and happiness,” she said. “Inciting a negative feeling of FOMO to motivate workers, is misguided.” Fishbach urged bosses to consider whether this was “an appropriate way to get the most out of their staff.”

Sense of community

Bogens, however, stressed that while he is trying to encourage Bolt workers back by using FOMO via country — or office-based Slack channels, offering location and time flexibility remains crucial. So too is nurturing a sense of belonging for workers.

“We are not setting red lines, but want them to work at least two days a week from the office — we have just expanded our headquarters [in the Estonian capital Tallinn], and there is no point in investing in real estate if people don’t work there,” he said. “Sending people home [due to a lockdown] takes one day, but bringing people back to the office is a much longer process.”

Making the post-pandemic workplace more appealing is the first step to creating FOMO, according to Bogens. Next, a captivating calendar of non-work social events provides employees with another good reason to commute to the office. “We have board games evenings, bad movie nights, and candy Fridays, for instance,” he said.

In this vein, Bolt has established over 50 community groups on Slack, with around half set up since the pandemic’s start. “People join a club and play football, or basketball, which Bolt pays for,” added Borgens. “There are also coffee, techno, DJ, ex-pat, dog-walking, and cigar clubs, among others. Those communities connect activities to the office and play a big role in how people communicate with each other.”

Stuart Templeton, head of U.K. at Slack, praised this attitude. “There is no magic formula for how frequently companies and teams should get together — it has to be driven by their own culture.” He warned, though, that getting this wrong “will harm productivity, engagement, and satisfaction, and ultimately will lose talent.”

Recent Slack research indicated workers wasted almost two hours on video calls when in the office — “a productivity killer,” said Templeton. He argued that organizations should be more intentional regarding in-office activities. “Firms must be more thoughtful in their approach and have a clear purpose when bringing people together, which should focus on social, collaborative, and dynamic activities,” he added.

Treating workers like adults

Michelle Yeadon, co-founder of London-based advertising agency Weirdo, was skeptical about Bolt’s approach. “Trying to tempt people back to the office with FOMO initiatives is ridiculous,” she said. “I’ve never heard anyone say they were happy about benefits and experiences that are only available in-person or being required to come into the office at a specified cadence.”

The seismic cultural and working shifts triggered by the pandemic have, in Yeadon’s mind, accelerated a move away from a command-and-control style of management. It’s time, therefore, for employers to grow up. 

“If you create an inclusive and welcoming culture, one where people are treated like adults, team members will organically want to spend time with the other inclusive and welcoming people who have been hired,” she said. “They will voluntarily choose to come to the office rather than being manipulated into it.”

Three questions with Robert Boersma – vp, operations at Talent.com.

What will be the long-term effects of the salary transparency laws, in terms of employer accountability?

Pay transparency will enable improved pay equity within the organization and generate traction towards closing the larger gender and racial wage gap — creating a level-playing field for all. Furthermore, fairness and transparency promoted by the law will help improve the employer brand image and become key for organizations to attract and retain good talent. Lastly, the law will facilitate more clear discussions on salary negotiations as candidates and employees expect clear guidance from employers about why an employee will sit at a certain point in the range, allowing a more objective conversation about how and why employees can progress.

How prepared are employers for this? And if an employee spots that they are not in the same salary band as a colleague or a new hire – how should they approach this with their manager?

Only 12% of jobs on Talent.com currently display salary in the U.S. The shift is happening but is gradual. Larger employers have a structure in place, so it is easier for them to implement right away. Smaller businesses, however, might not be as prepared, but have the advantage of workforce size, making the process less demanding. That said, it is going to be important to tackle conversations internally following this shift and establishing channels for discussions. As for coworkers’ pay discrepancies, employees should first understand the factors of the range (experience, certifications). This will allow an objective discussion and help them prepare their
business case accordingly.

What are the most awkward internal discussions it is likely to raise between and employee and their employer?

Employees already knew there was a discrepancy, but now they have proof. It might be that two employees are doing the same job, but one brings more value than the other, therefore the positions need to be split into different pay ranges. It is imperative to have clear deciding factors that make up the range. Businesses can’t be caught looking unprepared for these conversations, or they will lose employee trust. It is best advised to address cases where current employees fall outside of the salary range in advance of the ranges becoming public. Preparing management to have these conversations is a critical first step. — Jessica Davies.

By the numbers

  • 66% of 1,681 CEOs polled across 96 countries and 47 industries, see talent shortages as their biggest challenge in the year ahead — above inflation issues (48%).
    [Source of data: YPO Global Pulse survey.]
  • Companies with 50 to 499 employees, dropped a whopping 27% of their office footprint between July and September 2022. 
    [Source of data: Robin Hybrid Workforce report.]

What else we’ve covered

  • It’s never been more critical for CEOs to invest in their mental health if they’re to steer their organizations and employees through these turbulent times, experts say.
  • Many executives are looking beyond headcount reductions to control workforce costs, according to PwC’s latest survey. The focus is instead back on managing out low performers.
  • Just how much longer will businesses covet such massive, costly real estate conversions when there is no guarantee that employees will ever be at full capacity in an office, like they were before Covid-19?
  • To keep pace with working trends, some organizations are turning to Airbnb-style initiatives. That means colleagues are home-swapping to capitalize on their companies’ work-from-anywhere policies.
  • There is an epidemic of business leaders flip-flopping on their company policies, particularly policies pertaining to RTO, which is causing employee stress levels to spike. But experts advise that there are ways to avoid this.
  • Workplace designers say that having a spectrum of different workspaces within an office is crucial for neurodivergent employees.

What we’re reading

  • Tech companies enforcing an office return, are ignoring the data. [Forbes]
  • A guide on how to negotiate your own return-to-office incentives. [CNBC]