What Really Happens When Your Company Helps Pay Your Rent

Getting a rent subsidy from your employer might seem like a great perk. At first...

Paychecks aren’t growing fast enough in the U.S., and a company that offers potential employees an extra boost for rent might seem hugely attractive. But there's a tradeoff built into that perk. 

Some companies, particularly in the tech industry, have been toying with rent subsidies for employees who live close to the office, the Wall Street Journal reported. These benefits provide a little more security for workers in areas like Silicon Valley, where rents have skyrocketed in recent years.

In an effort to soften the stress of commuting from more affordable areas, the firm Addepar, which provides investment management software, supplements workers with $300 a month for rent if they live within a mile of its West Coast office, and $150 a month for those who live slightly farther away.

The perk has helped with employee retention and resulted in employees staying longer at work, according to the Journal.

But there's the rub: Incentivizing proximity to the office means an even blurrier line between work and personal time, and getting employees to work longer isn’t exactly good for their well-being.

Some of Silicon Valley's biggest tech companies are already known for devising clever ways to keep people at the office for bigger chunks of time. Facebook and Google, for example, offer lavish food, daycare, massage and fitness perks.

The U.S. is already pretty far behind other countries when it comes to work-life balance. Americans get way fewer vacation days than their counterparts in Brazil, Finland and France, where employees who have been with a company for over a decade get at least 40 days off.

France's 35-hour work week has long been the envy of those across the Atlantic, and just this week the country began considering a law that would allow people to ignore work emails when they leave the office.

American workers are already stressed out enough about work. A YouGov/Huffington Post poll earlier this year found that 58 percent of people feel overwhelmed by their professional duties, and many admit to working during off-hours and responding to work emails when they should be on their down time.

Research has shown that people don't really benefit from added workloads: They lose sleep, burn out and become disengaged. One study even found that work stress could take three years off your life.

Still, helping with rent could be a way for tech startups to lure potential employees who might be eyeing a more lucrative job at another company.

“Tech startups particularly have struggled with recruiting top-tier talent,” Conor McKay, director of the Future of Work Initiative at the nonprofit Aspen Institute, told HuffPost. “Some companies have found that housing stipends help them recruit workers who they might not otherwise be able to compete for.”

That there’s even a need for housing subsidies among tech workers highlights the stark housing market in Silicon Valley. But it also hints at a vicious cycle that doesn’t seem like it’ll go away anytime soon.

Those crazy rents in the Bay Area have been fueled by the booming tech industry itself. (The median rent in San Francisco is well above $3,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.) But now, even people looking to jump into the tech world have trouble affording a place close to work.

“What this shines more light on is the challenges of affordable housing and transportation,” McKay said. “Something like a $300 housing subsidy helps, but it doesn’t solve the financial challenge.”

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