Last week, UBS made a surprise announcement. The Swiss bank will let two-thirds of its staff mix working from home and the office permanently. I wasn’t that surprised though.
This move was about employer brand!
When you look at other US banks, such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, they have taken a very different approach. Goldman Sachs has already ordered its staff back to its New York headquarters. Meanwhile, JP Morgan expects its US employees to return on 6 July.
I think chief executive James Gorman of Morgan Stanley was the most vocal among them at a recent company event. He said, "If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office, and we want you in the office".
However, I would argue that these banks are not good examples of companies that are keen to improve their employer brand. They actually don't need to. They are in New York, where there is no shortage of workers. New York City has a population of 8.4 million people, which is not far off the 8.5 million people that live in Switzerland.
In Switzerland, talent is scarce
This is why this hybrid work initiative at UBS is being led directly by chief executive Ralph Hamers and his top managers. UBS is doing this because it makes a lot more sense for them strategically and it's also much more aligned with Swiss values.
The Swiss bank aims to seize as much talent as it possibly can post-pandemic, and it's doing this by listening very carefully to what talented candidates actually want.
It's a bold move. But if you have lived in Switzerland then you will understand why this is a very good employer brand strategy. A person's work-life balance is highly respected in Switzerland. Moving to a hybrid model of employment, therefore, comes naturally for most good Swiss employers. In Switzerland, family and a worker’s quality of life, have always been considered extremely important.
In this candidate driven market, Swiss companies have to be very creative with how they attract high-quality candidates. These are companies that quite often punch well above their weight internationally. They do this by hiring only the best and most talented employees. Subsequently, job packages in Switzerland are extremely attractive. And, this is part of the challenge.
How do you as an employer differentiate yourself against the competition? The only way you can do this, is to go beyond just offering a good pay package with nice perks. You need to do more, to really stand out. That's why we are seeing many companies really pushing boundaries with what they offer candidates. And I'm not talking about company cars with attractive leases, staff restaurants that serve healthy food, or even free travel cards. All of these perks are well established in Switzerland.
The next step is to give workers the choice to decide when and how they want to work. I think this makes sense. After all, as long as the job is done and there's no fall in productivity, then what companies potentially get is a much more satisfied workforce.
There are other benefits as well. Shifting to a hybrid work model genuinely supports diversity. Think about it!
If you are a working mother, having the flexibility to work means that you are not disadvantaged by having to rush to and from the office or pay for expensive childcare. If you have disabilities or you live far away from the office, then you are also not disadvantaged by the commute.
It also means that you can widen the net of employees that you wish to hire. Having a talented worker in Geneva for instance, while your office is in Zürich, is no longer an issue. As a company, you have a much wider talent pool to select from.
We are moving to a hybrid working model. I believe what this means is that we will get a more diverse and inclusive work environment. Companies will also gain much greater access to talent than they have done in the past. It may not make sense for big cities like New York, but for Switzerland this is a system that makes a lot of sense.