Banks Get Tough on Return-to-Office Laggards After Summer Break

Three years on from the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Wall Street is still working on cajoling staffers back to the office.

(Bloomberg) — Three years on from the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Wall Street is still working on cajoling staffers back to the office. 

In recent mid-year evaluations, Citigroup Inc. managers were reminding staffers with persistent absences of the firm’s expectations for in-office work. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has also started reiterating the message that it expects employees to be in the office five days a week. Later this month, BlackRock Inc. will tighten its in-office requirements from three days a week to four. 

And employees of HSBC Holdings Plc’s UK bank have been told they should be at their desks in an office or with clients three days a week from October, a spokesperson confirmed this week.  

“Employers are going to be more rigid,” said Kathryn Wylde, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City, which has many Wall Street leaders on its executive committee. “It’s sending the message that people are paying attention and the bosses are paying attention and will judge your performance at least based in part on your office attendance.”

Where the financial services industry goes with remote work, so does the rest of the economy. While top banking executives were among the first to decry persistent remote work, these days, even technology giants that once promised long-term flexibility have become stricter with their policies — though few have returned to full five-day office schedules.

“I completely understand why someone doesn’t want to commute an hour and a half every day, totally got it,” JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon told The Economist in an interview published in July. “Doesn’t mean they have to have a job here either.”

Still, even financial firms’ efforts to bring workers back have come in fits and starts and, at times, have been undone by resurgences in new coronavirus variants. In fact, the first push to invite more bankers back to their desks started after the US Labor Day holiday in 2020, while the pandemic still raged. 

These days, less than half of all office workers are back at their desks, according to Kastle Systems, which measures badge swipes at office buildings around the country. In New York, where 1 in 11 jobs have ties to the financial securities industry, that figure slipped to 43% in August, the data show. 

Bank bosses looking to crack down on those flouting in-office policies are navigating a delicate balance. Among financial services workers who still work remotely at least part-time, two thirds said they would quit if they were required to return to the office five days a week, according to a Deloitte survey published in August. 

“Employers are pushing more aggressively for a return to the office,” said Neda Shemluck, a managing director at Deloitte who also serves as the diversity, equity and inclusion leader for the firm’s US financial services practice. “There is this urgency now for employers to have policies in place to mandate people back into the office. And, the reality is, that’s going to come with very significant consequences in terms of retention.”

–With assistance from Dara Doyle.

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