my satellite team resents that we don’t get the perks offered at our headquarters — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I manage a small team (less than 10) in a small city that is a three-hour drive from the company’s main site and headquarters, which is in a large urban area. Due to nature of our work, all my employees need to be on-site, but I try to be liberal with letting people work from home to handle personal items or if they have online training. There are perks to working at our site instead of HQ (less traffic, lower cost of living, nicer cubicles, more daily independence, proximity to food trucks), and we sometimes hold social events with other organizations in our building.

My team members are familiar with life at HQ because one person transferred from there, and everyone travels there at least once a year. We also interact daily with employees located there. The company holds frequent employee events throughout the year at HQ during work hours, which often include a meeting followed by food or games. Most have a virtual aspect for global and remote staff, and I try to balance these events with frequent team lunches and other group activities. I asked IT to remove my team from the HQ announcement email distribution list and that helped some with the FOMO.

About half of employees at HQ are in hybrid roles and don’t need to be on-site every day. But the company started offering a lunch delivery service to encourage staff to come to the office. This program has been widely promoted in the company. All staff at HQ benefit in convenience and subsidized meals, but the contracted program does not operate in our city. The cost of this program is covered by the executive budget at HQ. My company promotes employee experience and equity, so I told my team I would see if there were any alternatives that would work for our location and size (for example, covering food delivery fees). Unfortunately, I learned that cost for my location would need to come out of my budget directly. Now a member of my team heard about the gym at HQ being remodeled, and asked if we could have a gym pass program.

I have no administrative support, so any event planning is an extra task for me, and there is no way the on-site perks at our location will ever duplicate those at HQ. It is mainly two members of the team that discuss these perks and promote them to other team members. What is a tactfully way to point out that we don’t work at HQ, and it is not reasonable to want everything employees there have. Please note that anyone on my team would have an easy time getting a transfer to HQ if they wanted it.

I can kind of see why people are a little grumbly about it; they’re seeing one set of employees get one set of benefits, while they themselves get a lesser one.

That’s just the reality of working at satellite offices much of the time. But it doesn’t mean people won’t notice and have thoughts about the differences.

Your role isn’t necessarily to make them be happy about that; they’re going to feel however they’re going to feel. You just need to be clear and matter-of-fact that yes, there are differences, those differences are due to your different budgets, and that’s not going to change. (But you were smart to have your team taken off the HQ announcement email list; that was just rubbing salt in the wound.)

When people grumble, say this: “HQ has the budget for perks that we don’t have. We have other perks from living in our area that they don’t enjoy, but it’s true that the work-provided perks there are different. Realistically, those aren’t things we can offer with our budget.”

And then if they keep grumbling: “You’re right, the perks are different because our budgets are different. If you ever want a transfer to HQ, we can talk about that.”

If people seem really disgruntled, one option is to lay the problem out for them and enlist them in brainstorming ideas they would like that are possible within the constraints you’re working with. You could say, “I could find a way to set aside $X/year from our budget for staff morale and perks. Do you want to help me figure out what people would like within that budget?” If they suggest something over that limit, you could ask, “Where would you move the money from? And could we make a business case for doing that?” (Don’t ask this in a snarky way, like it’s a foregone conclusion that it can’t be done. Ask it collaboratively; you’re enlisting them as partners in thinking it through.) Who knows, maybe they’ll come up with something creative — and also, going through the exercise might help them better understand the monetary constraints.

Last, are you able to advocate for a small morale budget for your office? You could make a business case for it, since morale affects things like recruitment, retention, and sometimes productivity. And since your company promotes employee experience and equity, you could frame it in those terms. It’s not an outrage if you can’t make it happen, but your employees would probably appreciate knowing that you went to bat for it.

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