Big city firms are grappling with a dilemma. Each is desperate to get ahead in the war for talent. Yet many are also intent on pushing workers back into offices – and are falling out of favour with them in the process. To sweeten the deal, firms are experimenting with various offerings.
Goldman Sachs, one of the most public advocates for full-time office returns, has tried everything from free ice cream to unlimited annual leave to lure staff back to their desks and win talent. We’ve also seen PwC dole out huge pay rises and introduce summer hours, and Slaughter and May give the green-light to dog-friendly offices.
Last week, Citbank unveiled its own plan: opening new offices in sunny Málaga. But the more I learn about Citibank’s beach-side office offer, the more I realise just how little has changed since my own time in the world of investment banking – a period which was cut short when I was fired for asking to work from home.
The first red flag is that there will be no relaxing of rules when it comes to remote work for Citibank’s Málaga expats. Staff based in the Spanish location will be looking at the beach from office windows, rather than enjoying the digital nomad lifestyle they might first have imagined.
Recruits to the Costa del Sol have been told they will “only” have to work eight hour days, and will be granted weekends off. Not so much a perk as an expectation, right? Wrong. Employees relocating to Málaga will pay a price for this apparently generous work-life “balance”. Their salaries will be half that of peer employees based in London or New York.
Citibank has missed the mark horribly. All employees should be entitled to fair pay and reasonable working hours, regardless of where they are based. Overlooking these basic working rights, or championing the bare minimum as a generous offer, is a terrible tactic to win over new talent. But it is a sure way to reinforce the outdated cultures of presenteeism which defined my experience of the industry.
Instead of looking at where the system needs to give a little bit towards flexibility, they are hoping to be saved by beach-side gimmicks.
The message Citibank is sending is clear: office based work is superior, and takes precedence over individual needs and wellbeing. Yet the truth of the matter is that there’s no direct correlation between working location and output, nor working hours and output.
Most post-pandemic employers are much more accommodating of remote, flexible or hybrid work. But it’s high time the finance sector caught up, particularly if they want to attract and retain top talent.
Backlash against offices and hustle culture is building. And with the job seekers’ market holding strong, talent needn’t put up with either. Job hunters are seeking out companies that offer genuine flexibility. In other words, they’re looking for companies that truly support work-life balance, rather than make staff choose between their wellbeing and their wages.
Perhaps if Citibank embraced genuinely flexible working, and based pay on performance and value rather than working location or hours, the firm wouldn’t have to resort to beachside offices to prevent burnout and lure in new recruits. Industry-wide change is needed; and if staff get their say, industry-wide change will come.
But even when the change does come, there will be many – myself included – who were pushed out, or jumped from, a system that refused to flex.