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Finance employees see the future of work as hybrid as major firms push for a return to the office

November 29, 2022, 11:49 AM UTC
Smiling professional young Asian businesswoman talking in front of the camera having video conference with her business partners on laptop in a contemporary office space
A study by Women in Banking and Finance and the London School of Economics focuses on finance professionals in the U.K.
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Good morning,

Employees of major financial firms want flexibility. They’re unwilling to return to a 9-to-5, in-office post-pandemic workplace, even though some C-suite leaders are pushing for it.

“The firms themselves often have mandates on the number of days employees are expected to show up,” Grace Lordan, director of The Inclusion Initiative at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), tells me. “However, employees prefer an approach that puts productivity and autonomy first.”

Lordan is a co-author of a new report by Women in Banking and Finance and LSE that is based on interviews with 100 workers in financial and professional services in the U.K., from entry-level to senior positions. Participants were at firms including Barclays, BlackRock, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan, and UBS.

During a 45-minute interview, each participant was asked about the future of work. Ninety-five participants suggested some version of hybrid working. And almost a third emphasized trust as a necessary ingredient to enable hybrid work to operate effectively going forward. Just five participants (two women, three men) mentioned a traditional office work week as their personal ideal.

Some leaders like Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, aren’t fans of hybrid work. Solomon wants employees back in the office five days a week, despite some pushback. Following the Omicron wave in February, only about 5,000 of Goldman’s 10,000 workers at the firm’s New York headquarters returned.

But Solomon is standing his ground. “Before the pandemic, about 75% of our people were in the office on any given day of the week,” Solomon said in an interview with CNBC last month. “Today it’s about 65%, so we’re kind of operating close to the way we were.”  JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon also has a long-held preference that workers return to the office

Meanwhile, UBS is taking a different approach—a “virtual worker framework.” U.S.-based employees in certain roles will have the opportunity to work 100% remotely rather than hybrid, Marc Montanaro, head of HR at UBS Americas, recently told me.

In the U.S., remote work appears to be a new mainstay. An analysis by LendingTree found that 29.1% of Americans worked from home in the past seven days in October this year, versus a very similar 29.5% in October 2021.

In the U.K., more than 100 employers of all kinds, across industries are participating in four-day, 32-hour work week trials (with no loss of pay for workers). The action is the result of a campaign by a nonpartisan, nonprofit group. However, Lordan says that working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. four times a week isn’t true flexibility.  

“The four-day work week is very rigid,” she says. “We found that managers in firms were adopting much more imaginative approaches to the future of work and seeing the benefits in terms of productivity.” In fact, managers often favor a remote first approach that satisfies local operational needs, according to the report. 

Of the study participants who suggested hybrid work, over half related flexible working conditions with stabilized or increased productivity, according to the report. One participant told the researchers: “I’m not strictly confined to nine to five. If I worked really, really late one night, I can just sleep until 10, or 10:30 and then work a bit later in the morning and then finish a bit later.” 

Of the 100 participants in the LSE study, 68 identified as women, 31 as men, and one as gender fluid. Fifty-nine individuals identified themselves as white, 29 as Asian, and nine were Black. Lordan says an increasingly hybrid and remote workforce in financial service can help retain and attract diverse employees, including women who seek flexibility.

“Right now, the roles where the demand from senior leaders to return fully to the office are income generating roles,” according to the report. If firms continue to refuse flexibility for these roles, it will “negatively impact the gender pay gap, given that they are of the most highly paid in society,” the authors state.

“Firms who adopt a rigid model will lose out on diverse talent,” Lordan says.


See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

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