Citi is ordering its low-performing remote workers back to the office. That could be a bad sign for quiet quitters.

Man walking into Citi.
Low-performing hybrid workers are brought back to the office for coaching, Citi CEO Jane Fraser said.
Juan Cristobal Cobo—Bloomberg/Getty Images

While Citibank promotes flexible work arrangements, workers who aren’t performing well when at home will be ordered back to their cubicles, CEO Jane Fraser told Bloomberg’s David Westin at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday.

“You can see how productive someone is or isn’t, and if they’re not being productive, we bring them back to the office, or back to the site, and we give them the coaching they need until they bring the productivity back up again,” Fraser said.

That lack of productivity might be chalked up to quiet quitting, the term du jour that describes doing the bare minimum of what’s asked of you at work—and not the tiniest bit more. Proponents have called it “acting your wage.”

Fraser didn’t say how many workers were ordered back in, but data shows that outsize lack of motivation among remote workers—or, by another name, a quiet quitting epidemic—is a myth. Slack’s think tank, Future Forum, surveyed 10,000 global white-collar workers last October and found that those with full schedule flexibility showed 29% higher productivity scores than employees with no flexibility at all. Plus, employees with flexible schedules reported a 53% greater ability to focus and three times better work-life balance than those with rigid in-office protocols. 

Considering there’s no shortage of companies who remain bullish on a return to office despite ample evidence showing it’s unnecessary—to the point where some are tracking their workers’ productivity while working from home—it’s not unlikely other companies could follow in Citi’s footsteps.

When Westin asked Fraser about the long-term efficacy of remote work, she first acknowledged the “win-wins.” 

“I want to start off by saying that we recognize we’re going through a very human crisis during the pandemic, [and hybrid work] was an advantage for us to attract, retain, and get the most out of our talent,” she said. “We do measure productivity very carefully, and I am incredibly proud of our people and what they did in terms of supporting clients and communities through some very difficult times around the world.” 

Nonetheless, she’s mindful of varying needs at various points and ensuring they’re addressed so workers “can deliver excellence to clients and to the job.”

But she believes there’s an “important balance” in executing hybrid work, emphasizing the value of collaboration and apprenticeship that workers can only experience in-person.

Pro-hybrid, anti-quiet quitting

At various points throughout the pandemic, Citi has waffled on its return-to-office stance. In March 2021, it was the first major U.S. bank to introduce a long-term hybrid model, including “Zoom-free Fridays” and a company holiday on May 28, dubbed “Citi Reset Day.” 

But in early 2022, Citi became what Banking Dive referred to as “the Wall Street lender with the strictest office-rerun policy,” as it threatened to immediately fire workers who didn’t comply with its vaccine mandate.

By the end of the year, Fraser told Fortune that competing banks’ insistence on full-time in-person work—including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan—feels “a bit 1980s.”

“Why do we need to have our junior bankers … in the office late at night if they’re working on a deal?” Fraser said on an episode of Fortune’s Leadership Next podcast. “Once they’ve done the work collaborating together, they can do that at home.”

It seems, then, that Fraser is pro-hybrid, but anti-quiet quitting: Remote work is fair, when done in balance and while maintaining productivity levels. After all, she expects “a world of pretty tight labor supply” in the future, she said at Davos. “We’re not seeing people coming back who left the workforce in anything like the numbers we expected, and that’s even with the pending recession and the inflationary challenges.”

As a result, pulling off a hybrid arrangement that works for everyone will be crucial. “I think we’re gonna have to keep listening to our people and getting that balance right,” she said. “If you don’t listen to them, you’re in danger of having some problems.”

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