Reputational fallout ensued for bank that tried to ditch flexible working

The concept of flexible working is not only part and parcel of business life these days, for good reason, it is also part of the framework of employment legislation designed to eradicate discrimination in the workplace.

BNY Melon's move has already caused reputational fallout for the bank, argues David Israel
BNY Melon's move has already caused reputational fallout for the bank, argues David Israel

At a time when most companies are seeking to drive diversity, it beggars belief that a company the size of BNY Mellon, with over 50,000 employees, decided to tell its staff that within a couple of months everyone was expected to work from the office.

This meant that, unilaterally, it was taking the decision to overturn any existing arrangements for people to work more flexibly from home for some of the time.

BNY Mellon’s website states, ironically under the 'culture' section, that it has created a distinctive culture, fostered through an unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The fallout from their recent announcement has done little to justify such a statement – instead it has created a wave of criticism that will take many years to remedy.

There are good financial reasons why companies are embracing diversity. They need to attract and retain talent, which these days means demonstrating a willingness to consider alternatives to the working practices of days gone by.

The ability to remote work is itself being driven by the technology available.

Perhaps more importantly, clients demand it – the expectation is that business is addressed 24/7, all the more so in today’s globalised world. In that regard, for the bank’s CEO to say that the reason for the change was to increase collaboration, enable faster decision-making and better serve clients appears to be a massively backwards step.

In addition to the immediate PR fallout, there would be good reason to believe that such a step would have given rise to a substantial number of claims from its existing workforce.

Some would have had remote work already agreed and, therefore, such a decision would give rise to a breach of contract claim.

More alarmingly would be the claims of discrimination, given that historically flexible working assists female workers and the consequential claims of indirect sex discrimination.

Ultimately, this appears to be a step that has been deliberately taken without any concept of the adverse consequences for the business.

A number of businesses have seen their share price hit following, say, IT glitches and senior executives have then walked.

However, on this occasion the decision appears to have been entirely at the bank’s own making and it then rapidly sought to back-track on the announcement.

The bank later said it had listened and learned, adding that it did not appreciate the impact the decision would have on employees.

This does appear bizarre - on what planet did they think that their initial decision would not have a huge impact?

Indeed, the impact is not just upon those that already work flexibly, but on others who do not and, importantly, the affect upon the talent pool they are seeking to bring in.

Is this a lesson learned? One would hope so, but mainly for the rest of us in seeing the impact such a regressive step can create.

David Israel is a partner in the employment team at Royds Withy King

Thumbnail image via @BNYMellon on Twitter

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