Business Briefing

Cash bonuses, yoga and ‘canine clauses’: how the City is luring back its workers

Employers are dangling carrots, but the September return looks hesitant

It felt almost like the old days, said Joe Wallace and Will Horner in The Wall Street Journal. “In a test of the City of London’s ability to bring back workers” after the pandemic, one of its oldest institutions – the London Metal Exchange’s ring (the last open outcry trading floor in Europe) – reopened for business on Monday for the first time in 18 months.

“Traders from rival firms greeted each other and swapped jokes about how their suits no longer fitted” before getting stuck into the steel billet session. Executives “cheered the homecoming”, but with Covid cases rising again, it carries risks; traders must be fully vaccinated or take quick tests twice a week.

Other employers, such as JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, are also encouraging staff to return after the summer holiday. But some are “delaying plans”. Certainly, on Monday, “streets and stations in the historic financial district” remained “quiet”.

The Bank of England set the tone in London by hesitating over its original plan of asking staff to return to the office for a minimum one day a week in September, said BBC Business. It now says the moment is not yet “right for us” to insist on staff returning if they have health concerns.

It’s much the same pattern across the Atlantic, said Jennifer Liu on CNBC. Companies including Google, Apple, Amazon and Starbucks have already “announced postponements” and more employers are expected to follow suit. Consultants have dubbed it “The Great Wait”: 18 months into the pandemic, “the future of the workplace is as uncertain as ever”. “It’s costing employers millions” as they try “to figure out what to do next”.

Many companies are proffering incentives to “tempt staff back”, as part of new flexible schemes demanding a few days in the workplace every week, said the FT. PwC is giving cash bonuses to its entire 22,000 staff, “suggesting they can be used for new office clothes, a bike for commuting or restarting a gym membership”. Others are offering yoga, “return to work” celebrations and access to clinical psychologists.

Bosses appear to be “prioritising the quality of space and staff well-being”, said The Times. “Canine clauses”, stipulating that dogs can be allowed in an office, are now “commonplace in central London leases”. According to British Land, which owns the City’s Broadgate campus, occupancy across its offices is currently “between a third and half of pre-pandemic levels”.

Landlords worried about “the impact of hybrid working on the value of their portfolios” are hoping for “a material pick-up” in occupancy from next week. But office workers “aren’t rushing to get back”.

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