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New working, old attitudes

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Middle managers blocking working from home paint themselves in a terrible light

Flexible working has become a cornerstone of employment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. But capital markets bankers are finding out that enormous cultural shifts mean very little if their desk is not bringing in the money.

One of the few positives to come out of the pandemic was something that freelance journalists have been swearing by for years — working from home could actually be productive.

But for many managers working in the capital markets, this emphasis on work-life balance means little compared with the most important metric in any bank — the P&L.

Some banks have been public with this from the top down. Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, James Gorman, told his New York staff last year that if they can go into a restaurant, they can come into the office.

But many banks have taken a desk-by-desk approach, allowing middle managers to decide on how to implement working-from-home liberties.

Across London, bankers say that working from home is a possibility, unless your desk is not hitting its budget.

Then, bosses are as demanding as ever that employees are in the office from early in the morning until long after sunset — as if that somehow generates money all by itself.

Even though numerous studies completed since lockdown began show working from home can lead to increased productivity and reduce the risk of burnout — a very real threat in the world of 60-plus hour weeks as standard — bosses still see face time as one of the best things an employee can do to improve the ailing fortunes of a desk.

This suggests one of two things: either a manager struggling to deal with the demands of a post-lockdown world, or a manager who does not trust the staff they hired to get the job done without enforcement.

Neither shines a very good light on the boss.

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