Return to office mandates are pushing financial leadership out the door

Return to office mandates are pushing financial leadership out the door

Much of the return-to-work conversation has pitted employer versus employee, with leadership pushing for in-office attendance while workers demand more flexible options. But a new survey of executives in the financial services industry reveals there is more middle ground than meets the eye.

Despite the financial industry being ranked as one of the most remote-friendly, a number of its major players have put forth partial or full return-to-office mandates for their leaders, if not their entire workforce, including JPMorgan, BlackRock and Goldman Sachs. Interestingly, in Deloitte’s recent workplace engagement survey of mid-level to executive financial professionals, 66% responded that they would likely leave their current job if they were asked to return to the office full-time, with both men and women placing value on workplace flexibility. Among this group, caregivers — men and women alike — were especially impacted, being 1.3 times more likely to leave their company if remote work was no longer an option.  

“There’s a perception that employers want people in the office 100% of the time and employees don’t want to be in the office at all, and that’s not true,” says Neda Shemluck, managing director and U.S. financial services DEI leader at Deloitte. “The struggle is, how do you still require some in-person connectivity, and yet provide autonomy to team leaders to determine what is best for their teams?” 

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Respondents cite a connection between remote work and higher levels of engagement and well-being, but are concerned that their professional advancement will be impacted if they push to retain their current flexible work schedule. Asked what they think about being required to come into the office three or four days a week, only 18% said this workplace model is preferable, but 62% felt it would be bad for their career to come in less. If employers do not find a way to compromise with their executives who value flexible working arrangements, they risk losing this talent to a company that will.  

“If an organization is mandating hybrid for one or two days, there needs to be transparency around the implications to you as an employee or as a team leader if you are tracking differently from that,” Shemluck says. “Right now the challenge is the speculation as to the career impact that will have, without the transparency of long-term implications.” 

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If workplace flexibility is suddenly limited, the status of female leadership will prove a particular concern — 45% of women surveyed said they were likely to leave their jobs within the next year — though uncompromising employers stand to lose on many levels. Three out of four men reported that flexibility with work resulted in an improved relationship with their children, and another Deloitte survey of women leaders found 70% who reported a high degree of flexibility planned to stay with their current employer for at least the next three years. Shemluck urges top leaders to consider the needs of all demographics, and the advantages that flexibility offers to them, when formulating an RTO policy. 

“We have invested very heavily in diversifying our leadership — a lot of organizations have made great strides, and you will hit a double-whammy if you don’t address this,” Shemluck says. “The retention of your talent will be limited, and recruiting talent is also going to get hit as well. We know that this is one of the top two things people are looking for in terms of benefits: pay and flexibility.”

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Employers can make RTO policies more digestible by avoiding an “all or nothing” philosophy and keeping an open line of communication with managers, says Shemluck.To meet the concern over career advancement, companies can offer more learning and development opportunities, which topped the survey’s list of ways to improve employee experience.

“You have to take small steps and constantly do pulse checks and get real reactions as to what is working, and recognize that you’re going to constantly pivot,” Shemluck says “A lot of financial services firms are looking for the go-forward plan, and they want to set that in stone and policy. We had hundreds of years of working one way; it’s going to take us a long time to get comfortable with this new way of working, and it’s going to be an iterative process.”