Chinos replace suits in the City’s fight for top talent

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Still, many bosses value a future for the office. One FTSE 100 boss says he wants to mandate staff back into the workplace from next spring, having so far been wary of doing so due to fears about the trajectory of coronavirus and potential staff disquiet. 

KPMG recently told its auditors they will be back in the office four days a week in the future, while PwC boss Kevin Ellis kept its UK offices open over Christmas. 

“There is no substitute for being with people face to face to test views and make the right judgement calls,” he says. “Decisions around how much a business is worth or whether its accounts add up are not ones where you want to be second-guessing views on a screen.”

But executives would be wrong to dismiss the shift in culture, with the pandemic having triggered a conversation about how to ensure a career in the City remains desirable for top graduates. 

Many are increasingly looking for roles in the technology industry, where the pay is comparable and the work-life balance often better. 

Ross Mitchinson, co-head of City adviser Numis, says it is “definitely true that investment banking in the last few years seems to have become a less popular career for the brighter people coming out of universities, as tech companies [become] appealing to them”. 

In a bid to find a solution, firms have started to introduce new policies to improve employees’ wellbeing. 

Atom Bank has moved all 430 workers to a four-day week without cutting wages – in an industry first – while investment firm Hambro Perks has given staff almost four weeks of extra holiday to tackle pandemic burnout. 

Challenger bank Virgin Money has increased holiday days and told most staff they can work wherever they prefer, while City broker FinnCap is handing out as much holiday as desired. Unlimited holiday policies have also faced criticism, however, for resulting in workers taking fewer days off.

Octavius Black, chief executive of consultancy MindGym, is not convinced such benefits really do the trick. 

“I think a lot of it is tokenism and window dressing,” he argues. “Should a company worry about the burnout of its employees? Yes they should, but the way to deal with that is not yoga classes, four day weeks and not sending emails at weekends. 

“It’s well-working. How do you set up the flow of work and the way people are led and managed that doesn’t feel stressful and exhausting, but feels fun and exciting? So much of this is not the activity itself but the way we see it.” 

Not everyone agrees. The male-dominated banking sector has long been known for brutal working hours with a group of Goldman Sachs analysts earlier this year begging the investment bank to cap working weeks at 80 hours. 

Some believe that allowing chunks of staff to work from home or take more time off will boost the sector by attracting a more diverse workforce. 

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