NEW YORK (Reuters) – JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYSE:JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon sent a clear message to employees this month: get back to the office. It touched a nerve among his staff.
The largest U.S. lender’s employees inundated an internal messaging forum with criticism after its operating committee posted an edict entitled, “The importance of being together.” Some staffers pushed back, calling the message “tone deaf” and “divisive.”
Although only a tiny fraction of the bank’s 297,000 employees posted comments, the volume of pushback, which has not been previously reported, was high for what’s typical on the company intranet, said three employees spanning different levels of seniority.
Employees, including managers, complained about a “Zoom culture” in which staffers were stuck on virtual conference calls even when present in the office. They also groused about the challenges posed by long commutes and family caretaking responsibilities.
Comments were locked after about a day, which is typical for posts with a high volume of responses, another source said.
JPMorgan declined to comment.
In the nearly 700-word note on April 12 that sent ripples across the financial industry, the bank asked managing directors to return to the office five days a week and warned other employees working on hybrid schedules that they needed to show up three days a week or face consequences. Managers may consider attendance in performance reviews and take “corrective action” if requirements are not met, the memo said.
JPMorgan first called employees back to the office on a rotational basis in mid-2021 after months of pandemic shutdowns.
Employee grievances highlight the debate raging in corporate America over what is the right balance between in-office collaboration and flexibility.
Even among the large Wall Street banks, views have differed. Dimon and his counterparts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc (NYSE:GS) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) have been prominent advocates of in-office working for learning, innovation and culture. By contrast, Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C), UBS Group AG (SIX:UBSG) and Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE:BK) Corp have embraced more flexibility as a way to attract and retain talent.
Davia Temin, chief executive of crisis management firm Temin and Co, said employers may roll back pandemic flexibility and demand more in-office working as a recession looms and workers vie to keep their jobs.
“Working from home was introduced during extraordinary times and leaders have the right to change that, especially now as we are likely to be getting into a recession where profitability will be key,” Temin said.
“It is not a God-given right, so it can be changed.”
Dimon, who took the helm in 2006, said after sending out the memo that he felt the need for leaders to be available for spontaneous in-office discussions.
“Some people weren’t following the rules,” Dimon said, in response to a Reuters question on an earnings media call on April 14. “We don’t want to punish everybody because of that, but people agreed to do three days a week; we expect three days a week.”
He added: “We completely understand that some people don’t want to do it — they can not do it elsewhere.”
A JPMorgan spokesman at the time emphasized the bank would maintain flexibility.
In the comments on the memo, which were reviewed by Reuters, some employees gave reasons ranging from traffic and costs to work-life balance as factors to consider against a strict policy.
“Most people on my team (and even other teams around me) live pretty far from the office,” one employee wrote in a post. “Being stuck in traffic more often and paying even more for gas (prices are rising) is not good for myself and many others.”
Another commenter wrote: “In spite of the claims here, this is not actually about collaboration.” The post was liked by at least 90 readers.
Others said remote working was beneficial for mental health, family life and workplace diversity. Many branch employees, building staff and other workers have reported to offices throughout the pandemic without the option to work remotely.
In an interview, one JPMorgan employee said the three-day hybrid rule was being enforced so strictly that some workers were asked not to schedule personal commitments, like doctor’s appointments, on those days.
“There is a growing concern that if managers are going to be coming in five days a week, they may informally start asking the juniors to be in there as well,” the employee said, declining to be identified for fear of retribution.