No zoom in on Friday: Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser lays out measures to make working from home easier

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 22, 2022
Updated 2022/01/22 at 7:03 AM

It took a year from the pandemic, but finally one of the biggest banks in the world has recognized the huge cost remote work is taking on its employees. Jane Fraser, CEO of Citigroup, wants to alleviate Zoom fatigue and get back to normal work hours. This shows how bad things have gotten – at investment banks and at large corporations in general.

Citi employs more than 200,000 people worldwide and its attempt to solve the problem should persuade other large companies to rewrite their WFH manuals. This is a long-awaited attempt to tackle the common feeling of endless workdays and constant surveillance. It is also an acknowledgment that this pandemic is unlikely to go away anytime soon and that office culture will be altered for a long time to come – perhaps permanently.

Even if employees begged to return to the office, it is unlikely that downtown headquarters will be allowed to fill this year as governments manage the lingering threat of COVID.

The pandemic and the joys of the WFH have had an uneven effect on different levels of the corporate hierarchy. Business leaders say they are thriving, according to a Microsoft survey of workers published this week, but most of their employees are struggling or just surviving in today’s environment. About four in 10 workers are considering leaving their employer.

That’s why it’s essential for companies to quickly eliminate WFH practices that have worsened the load on their workers, with long days and the intrusion of the home office causing stress and resentment in equal measure. Burned out employees who feel like they want to get away from their managers will not perform well or stick around. The sudden introduction of lockdown measures a year ago allowed certain behaviors to go unnoticed, such as a manager sending WhatsApp messages or emails to employees at any time, expecting a response. This should no longer be acceptable.

In a lengthy memo to Citi employees, Fraser laid out three measures to immediately relieve the pressure: limit video calls to Fridays for customers only (or Thursdays, when applicable); scheduling business calls during what we once considered normal working hours (weekends are for rest); and encouraging people to take vacations. The company will also create a day of rest for the entire company – May 28 – the “Citi Reset Day”. This kind of initiative can seem a little gimmicky at times, but if it’s tied to genuine workweek improvements, what’s the harm?

As a diversified lender with a huge consumer business, Citi is not the same as the entire Wall Street herd: it will also be thinking about its retail operations. But your investment banking rivals should pay attention to your plan. Last weekend, the head of Goldman Sachs Group was forced to promise that Saturday would be sacred to his staff after a small group of deeply unhappy junior bankers complained of inhumane hours. Pandemic work has certainly contributed to this.

While prescriptive measures don’t always work and require adjustments and flexibility — there may be perfectly valid reasons to video call colleagues on a Friday, for example — Fraser is at least putting a marker on the need for some sort of life-to-life balance. work. The trick now will be to ensure that the measures are implemented in a meaningful and lasting way.

Wall Street leaders want everyone to get back to the office as soon as possible, but some social distancing will be in place for some time to come, which will keep workforces divided into locations, whether in satellite offices, nearby offices, or at home. For Citigroup, that means most employees will work in the kitchen or bedroom for up to two days a week, which could become standard practice in finance. Thus, the blurring of the lines between people’s personal and professional lives will continue well after vaccines are released.

Working from home has also made people much more vulnerable to bullying and harassment at work, giving bullies ideal conditions to lash out with little detection. According to the WBI US Workplace Bullying Survey 2021, remote workers were bullied at a rate of 43% compared to a rate of 21% for employees who do not work remotely. Half of those surveyed said the abuse took place over video calls.

As the Goldman Sachs 100-hour workweek episode showed, it’s best not to wait for overworked employees to blow up in public before solving the problem.

© 2021 Bloomberg LP

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