Roughly two-thirds (66%) of 700 financial executives who worked remotely part time said they would quit their jobs if they were forced to return to the office five days a week, according to a survey published Tuesday by Deloitte.
“Professionals — men and women alike — whose work and personal lives have been reshaped by remote work largely want to maintain flexibility even if it comes at a personal cost,” the accounting firm said in its report.
That cost may be corporate advancement, the survey suggests. More than half of respondents (52%) said they thought in-office workers were paid more. Likewise, 63% said they thought in-office workers were promoted more often, and 55% said those employees held more decision-making power.
However, the trade-off — at least for employees who care for children or elders — may be improved interpersonal relationships. Roughly three-quarters of surveyed men said work flexibility yielded improved relationships with their kids. That figure stood at 67% for women.
Caregivers with remote or hybrid work arrangements were 1.3 times more likely than non-caregivers to leave their jobs if that flexibility were taken away, Deloitte found. Further, 60% of respondents said they felt that employees with caregiver responsibilities were less likely to be promoted.
Critically, though, the survey draws a line between flexibility — the option to work from one place or another — and full-time remote work.
More than 30% of millennials and Generation X workers — who made up the vast majority of respondents — chose flexible arrangements over mandates comprising a specific number of days. Meanwhile, less than 10% said they’d favor being fully remote, Deloitte found.
“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,” Neda Shemluck, Deloitte’s U.S. financial services DEI leader, told American Banker. “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?”
Flexibility, too, outranked pay as a draw in some circumstances. About 35% of respondents who said they could leave in the next 12 months said they would do so for a job with more flexibility, compared with 34% for better pay or benefits.
Looking at mandated in-office time frames, employees seem to recognize the cost-benefit pendulum. Roughly 18% said they preferred to work from the office three or four days a week, yet 62% said they felt it would be bad for their careers if they came in less. It should be noted the respondents were manager-level executives through senior leadership just below the C-suite.
Still, workplaces should take care if they have time mandates or if they change policy, Shemluck said.
“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 said. “Right now the challenge is the speculation as to the career impact that will have, without the transparency of long-term implications.”
Banks have been split since early in the COVID-19 pandemic over the virtues of full-time in-office work versus flexibility. While JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley took a harder line, Citi was quick to institute a hybrid policy.
But gray areas exist. Citi isn’t universally flexible: The bank in June told managers to consider compliance with company rules — including attendance — when designing pay packages. And JPMorgan isn’t singularly pro-office: The bank told its managing directors in April it expects them in the office every weekday, but that edict saw passionate pushback from employees.
Regardless, more than half of hybrid workers told Deloitte they feel pressure to go into the office more often.
Companies with a strong contingent of female leadership may take heed: 45% of women surveyed said they were likely to leave their jobs in the next year if their flexibility were suddenly limited. Similarly, 70% who reported a high degree of flexibility said they planned to stay with their current employer for the next three years or more.
Shemluck suggested employers should maintain a level of flexibility in policy-making: that is, to be willing to change incrementally, or often, along with sentiment.
“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 said. “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.”