As banks everywhere summon staff back to their offices, the move risks fueling dissatisfaction and driving pay inflation higher. It's a sellers' market, and bankers and traders are calling the shots. One of their (many) demands is more flexibility.
JPMorgan, Citi, Barclays, and Deutsche Bank are among the banks to have informed staff they expect them back in the office at least part-time in early February as the threat of Omicron subsides. JPMorgan, for example, reportedly sent London staff a memo last week indicating the need for a shift to a "more permanent mindset of living with COVID-19."
The summons comes after another period of homeworking prompted by Omicron. Of the 950 finance professionals who completed a pre-Christmas survey on eFinancialCareers, 70% were working from home most of the time. Even in front office roles like sales and trading and M&A, nearly 60% of people said told us they were in their home offices.
This is about to change, and not everyone is receptive to it.
While most banks are happy for people in support roles to work from home three days a week, there's a growing expectation that salespeople, traders and junior M&A investment bankers should be in the office more than that. At all levels, there is resistance.
"There are two main reasons why I want the option to work from home three days a week," said an M&A banker in her late 30s responding to our survey. "Things can be dealt from home, particularly deal execution. And even if the hours are worse, you get to see your family."
After two years of working from home intermittently, survey respondents said their lives have changed. One 50-something macro salesman in London says he's begun to enjoy hanging out with his dog during the day. An M&A banker in his early 20s said working from home gave him time to go to the gym during an 80-hour work week that was damaging his health, and that: "I get to call someone who's not a colleague when I have 10 minutes to spare."
"Flexibility is becoming more important than money," added a man in his late 40s working in asset management. In a measure of this, only 20% of survey respondents who said they're looking for new jobs this year told us pay was a key motivation.
Banks that think they can retain people with flexible working alone stand to be disappointed, though. While only 20% of people said they'd move for money, an even smaller proportion (9%), said they'd move in search of flexible work. Motivations for moving on were eclectic and subjective, ranging from "less corporate BS," and a bigger challenge, to "More genuine responsibilities, as opposed to just bureaucracy or politics."
Equally, bonuses haven't entirely lost their power to retain. Nearly 70% of survey respondents said they planned to switch jobs in 2022, but 40% of them said they'd drop this idea if only their bonus is big enough.
For many, the pandemic and working from home have crystallized the tradeoffs between compensation and lifestyle. "I have just realized that I don’t intend to go back to the office without a massive raise," said one male banker in his late 30s, "The amenities of the house and the lack of a commute are worth too much." A female banker in her late 40s said she moved out of Manhattan during COVID and now has a "significant commute" if she's summoned back in.
Bankers in their early 20s are generally considered less keen on from homeworking because their personal accommodation is less roomy and their ability to network with senior colleagues is hampered when they're behind a screen, but there was little indication of this in responses to our survey. Instead, the number of respondents in their early 20s who indicated they'd like to work from home for at least three days a week outnumbered those who wanted to be in the office all the time by five to one. "When I am tired, I don't want to have to put the effort to coming into the office," said one woman in her early 20s working in M&A in London. "I want my employer to show that they trust me enough to work from wherever I want and to still be productive."
For senior bankers, this kind of trust is a big ask. The M&A banker who'd moved out of Manhattan cited managing juniors as the main hassle of working remotely - she said you never really know where they are. However, and although Goldman CEO David Solomon famously encountered some juniors out for lunch at a Hampton's restaurant, in most cases there's not a lot to know. When juniors work from home, the extra hours are mostly spent asleep, or exercising, or "getting slammed with work," and their perception is that the people managing them don't understand this. One 20-something credit salesman in New York said that what he really needed in a new job was "compassion" from his managers. An M&A banker in his early 20s in London, said he'd like a role that combines working from home with, "less toxic mid-level management, less BS work, seniors who actually know when to get the job done versus pressing for unreasonable outcomes because it's what they want..."
Keeping staff happy in 2022: it's complicated.
Download our full salary and bonus survey here.
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