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‘This is not an employee choice’: The CEO of Morgan Stanley gets real and says employees can’t simply choose to work remotely


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The pandemic has completely transformed people’s working lives. Employees across industries have gotten used to remote work, and they want to hold onto it, fighting back against efforts to bring them back into the office, with experts warning that if companies don’t welcome remote work, they risk losing talent.

Some companies have fully embraced remote work, going so far as to let go of their office spaces. But many others, including Disney, NewsCorp, and Starbucks have recently put their foot down and demanded that workers come back into the office. Now, the CEO of Morgan Stanley is sharing his own thoughts as well, making clear that working remotely is “not an employee choice.”

“They don’t get to choose their compensation, they don’t get to choose their promotion, they don’t get to choose to stay home five days a week,” said James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, in an interview with Bloomberg Thursday in Davos. “I want them with other employees at least three or four days.”

However, despite promoting the return to office, Gorman acknowledged that the decision has a lot to do with the specific role of the employee.

“There are different kinds of jobs,” he said. “Five days in the office for everybody is not going to happen again.”

The investment bank CEO has been vocal about wanting his employees back in the office since the summer of 2021, when he said at a conference that it was time bank employees in New York made it back to the office. He also said he would be “very disappointed” if employees didn’t return in person by September of that year.

Then came the Omicron variant, throwing many companies’ well-laid plans out of balance. It forced many banks to adopt a softer stance on when they wanted employees to come back to working in person, especially in their New York offices, including Morgan Stanley. “I thought we would be out of it by Labor day, past Labor Day. We’re not,” Gorman told CNBC in an interview in December 2021.

Gorman has continued to push this year for employees to start returning back to the office. During an event in March 2022, he noted that many people had adopted a mindset of “Jobland” where employees just showed up to work to do the job, versus “Careerland,” in which employees learned and developed skills from in-person interactions.

Banks have been among the most aggressive in pushing for in-person work. Last January, Goldman Sachs asked employees to start making their way back into offices per usual, but one year on, the progress hasn’t been great. The investment bank’s U.S. office attendance was between 75% and 80% before the pandemic, and was hovering at about 65% in October 2022.

Jan. 20, 3:53 p.m.: This story has been updated with an additional quote from Gorman’s interview with Bloomberg.

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