WFH or Bust: BPO Workers Would Rather Quit Than Return to the Office
In the Philippines, a new government blanket order putting an end to pandemic-induced remote work arrangements in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector is forcing many workers out of their jobs. According to the Alliance of Call Center Workers (ACW), a fifth of its members has indicated that they will resign or leave the BPO industry if the return-to-office order pushes through. The order is set to take effect on April 1st.
The policy will affect around 1.4 million workers who entered into work-from-home (WFH) arrangements with their employers in March 2020, when the government started implementing prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns. These workers include IT professionals, digital content creators, non-voice service providers, and customer service representatives in call centers and other BPO companies. According to the Department of Finance, companies in the $29-billion BPO industry will lose their tax incentives if they don’t enforce the return-to-office order.
Not a protest
According to CNN Philippines, the ACW clarified that the mass resignation of its members is not a protest but proof that returning to the office won’t be easy for workers. Many BPO employees who were allowed to work off-site moved back to their hometowns outside Metro Manila during the pandemic. For these workers, returning to the city will be difficult and costly.
For the rest, it will be a tough choice between employment and the remote work perks they have become accustomed to. Working from home has meant being able to spend time with families, avoiding hours-long commutes on Manila’s congested roads, spending less on rent and transportation, and improved productivity.
As the deadline for the enforcement of the return-to-office order looms, workers are appealing for the continuation of remote work arrangements or a hybrid approach, where they don’t have to be on-site the entire workweek.
Philippine government wants workers back in offices
The return-to-office directive comes as the country seeks to reinvigorate an economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. With BPO employees back in the office, government officials expect gains for the commercial real estate industry as call center companies renew leases. The presence of workers in city centers could also breathe life into businesses like malls, restaurants, bars, and cafes.
In a statement, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, who heads the country’s Fiscal Incentives Review Board, said, “The employees’ return to the office would provide more opportunities and pave the way for the recovery of local micro, small, and medium enterprises that depend on IT-BPM (business process management) employees for their livelihood.”
But the return-to-office order poses a conundrum for BPO companies. On the one hand, putting an end to work-from-home programs could mean having to pay higher taxes, which would impact their ability to grow. On the other, requiring workers to return to the office could result in a slew of resignations, leading to operational disruption.
In an interview with Nikkei Asia, one human resource manager confided that their company is preparing for high attrition rates. “We’ve been told to step up recruitment because many might leave once we return to office,” the manager said. “There are many home-based virtual assistant jobs where they can transfer.”