Future of Work

Financial services bosses are rejecting remote working, but staff are fighting back. Here’s how to make flexible working work for everyone

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Wanting more flexibility is the reason most employees say they could leave their jobs in the coming year. Image: Unsplash/Windows

Gabi Thesing
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of Work

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  • Two-thirds of senior US finance services staff who work in hybrid models say they are likely to quit if made to return to the office five days a week, a new survey from Deloitte finds.
  • The results come as an increasing number of financial institutions intensify their efforts to get workers back into the office full-time.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 finds that poor work-life balance could prompt 35% of people to leave their jobs.

The financial services industry finds itself grappling with an unprecedented challenge – not profit margins or regulation, but coaxing its employees back to the office full-time.

As Wall Street giants like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs order their staff back to the office five days a week, a new Deloitte survey of 700 senior US financial services professionals reveals a resolute resistance among workers to relinquish the newfound benefits of remote work.

It reveals that two-thirds who work remotely for at least some of the time say they will probably quit if made to return to the office five days a week.

Wanting more flexibility is the reason most employees say they could leave their jobs in the coming year. Around 35% feel that way, while 34% say they would leave for better pay or benefits, and 32% say they want their job to line up better with their life goals.

A chart showing how most survey respondents preferred flexible work arrangements more than any other workplace models.
The majority of workers value flexibility around time spent in the office. Image: Deloitte

Strict rules on staff returning to the office arrangements could therefore leave financial services firms facing two challenges when it comes to talent, the report says: “They could run the risk of losing their pipeline of leaders and have difficulty recruiting fresh talent.”

Back to the office full time?

JPMorgan has faced an employee backlash over its return-to-the-office rules. Some staff are citing long commutes and the high cost of travelling to the office five days a week, while others in the industry are simply ignoring the memos.

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“Over time, workers found a new way of doing things that stuck,” Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, told the BBC. “These new habits seemed right and fair, with the work still getting done. So, any sort of change was perceived as a cost: if returning to the office is good for my manager, then it must be bad for me.”

This is backed up by Deloitte’s findings, which highlight the positive impact of remote work on health, work-life balance and relationships for many people. Three in four men believe remote work has improved their relationship with their children, according to the report, and 67% of women feel the same way. Both also say their relationships with their partners, other family members and friends have got better thanks to more flexible working arrangements.

A graphic showing how remote work has had a positive impact on health and relationships for many people.
Remote work has had a positive impact on health and relationships for many people. Image: Deloitte

Workers are unlikely to give up these gains. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 finds that 83% of workers prioritize flexible hours, and 71% prioritize flexible locations. On top of this, 35% say that poor work-life balance and burnout would prompt them to leave their job.

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What is the Forum doing about keeping workers well?

What about productivity?

Managers are concerned about productivity, though, and many new studies support their argument, according to The Economist. One study of data-entry staff in India who work from home found they are 18% less productive than those in the office. And workers at a large Asian IT firm were 19% less productive at home than in the office.

That said, fewer than 10% of respondents in the Deloitte study say they want to be fully remote, and most value seeing and collaborating with their colleagues a few days a week – but not without a reason. “If the office environment is perceived as a solitary experience or employees feel they could do the same work more productively from home, many are likely to resist mandated return-to-office policies,” the report says.

A graphic showing how how men and women feel about hybrid working.
How men and women feel about hybrid working. Image: Deloitte

What’s the solution?

So, what’s the best course of action to balance the needs of staff and employers?

Returning to the office should be made desirable for employees, Deloitte says. Here’s what it recommends:

  • Take small steps: Start with fewer days in the office before increasing them to allow staff the time to recognize the benefits of working in the office. The survey shows a clear preference for one or two in-office days a week. The report also recommends introducing core working hours and offering flexibility around those.
  • Capitalize on the benefits of being face-to-face: Use a mix of informal gatherings and formal networking sessions to show the advantages of being in the office. More than a third of respondents say they value the opportunity to connect with people in more senior roles.
  • Focus on training and development: Almost 40% of workers Deloitte spoke to say they would like more training. In-person, role-based, or business-specific training programmes are preferable to online courses.

“It’s clear that flexibility in workplace arrangements is a driving force in employee engagement,” says Neda Shemluck, US Financial Services Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leader and Managing Director at Deloitte Services. “It’s incumbent on employers to create policies that meet business needs while still empowering employees with autonomy and flexibility.”

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