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Inflation complicates return-to-office plans

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A recent analysis by Square, the tech company, quantified the “lunchflation” that workers like Ms Jacobson faced. The average price of wraps last month was up 18% from a year earlier, with sandwiches up 14% and salads up 11%. At the same time, fast-casual restaurants are attracting more and more lunchtime customers as offices fill up. Orders placed at U.S. quick-service restaurants from mid-March to mid-April were up nearly 13% from a year earlier, according to the analysis.

Companies are trying to counter the conflicting forces of inflation and back-to-work spending by trying to make transportation and food more affordable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted in its recent Consumer Price Index that the price of food at workplaces has fallen even as meal prices have risen, which is most likely a sign of “free lunch programs.” generalized” companies.

Take Dallas-based OrderMyGear, which recently told its 165 employees that by June many should start coming to the office, at least part-time. Jaclyn Unruh, the chief of staff, reminded employees that the company offers free passes for public transport, which about 10% of them use, as well as free parking and meals two or three times per week.

In other workplaces, inflation has become a factor that reduces the attractiveness of the RTO. Cambium Learning Group, a Dallas-based educational technology company, told its 2,300 employees in December that most would have the option to stay remote, but it reopened the office in January for those who wanted to use it.

“My food bill is really different from not going to the office, not having coffee,” said Melissa Yates May, Cambium Learning Group’s human resources manager. “It has helped many employees better manage their finances.”

The company has not yet raised wages to raise consumer prices. “We’re a bit waiting to see where it normalizes before making these kinds of adjustments,” Ms Yates May said, noting that the company uses market data to ensure its salaries are competitive.

Still, many managers making decisions about return-to-work plans aren’t immune to the stress of rising prices. And they know that employees paid less than them are even more likely to experience pain at the pump or at the coffee shop.