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Workers could quit their jobs if forced to stay at home, Rishi Sunak warns

LaToya Harding
·3-min read
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak attends a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London, Britain March 3, 2021. Tolga Akmen/Pool via REUTERS
Sunak urged firms that have benefitted from the pandemic to embark on a hiring spree to help bolster the UK economy and revive city centres.Photo: Tolga Akmen/Pool via Reuters

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned UK businesses that staff members could quit their jobs if forced to stay at home after the pandemic.

He said that workers may “vote with their feet” and move to competitors offering jobs at physical workplaces, highlighting the importance of people returning to the office to convene with colleagues.

In an interview with the Telegraph, he said: “You can’t beat the spontaneity, the team building, the culture that you create in a firm or an organisation from people actually spending physical time together.”

Companies that have benefitted from the health crisis have collectively gained cash reserves of more than £100bn ($137bn) since the start of the outbreak. Sunak urged these firms to embark on a hiring spree to help bolster the UK economy and revive city centres.

"If you've got the cash, invest it now, because we want you to do it now and help drive our recovery and that will create jobs in the process,” he said.

The chancellor argued that an office environment was particularly vital for younger employees that are looking to understand how a company works and thinking of career progression.

READ MORE: How to successfully switch to hybrid working

"Imagine you've just left college or university — you start this job in a big company and you're sitting at home on your own.”

"How do you get to know your peers, how do you learn the culture of an organisation, how do you get those mentors, which are important for your career development?"

However, the finance minister also said that hybrid models with “extra flexibility” could be suitable for some workplaces and employees who prefer to work remotely.

It comes as a string of companies have already announced plans to close offices.

WATCH: UK banks slash office space as staff stay home

READ MORE: Barclays CEO: Packed Canary Wharf offices 'may be a thing of the past'

On Thursday, Nationwide (NBS.L) said its 13,000 office-based employees can do their jobs from anywhere in the UK even after the pandemic is over.

The move from Nationwide comes after just 6% of its employees said they wanted to work in an office five days a week in a survey.

More than half (57%) wanted to work from home full time and over a third (36%) wanted a blend of home and office work.

"As a member-owned organisation, Nationwide’s location agnostic approach is focussed on how people can do their best work rather than where they are based," it said.

“The last year has taught many of us that ‘how’ we do our jobs is much more important than ‘where’ we do them from. We are putting our employees in control of where they work from," said CEO Joe Garner.

"Our data suggests that working in a home environment encourages us to think more about the impact on others when making decisions," he added.

It follows HSBC (HSBA.L) who earlier said it plans to radically slash its office footprint in the coming years as it cuts staff and moves to an "agile" way of working post-COVID.

Europe's biggest bank said in a strategy update it hoped to reduce its office space globally by 40% "over the long term".

Meanwhile Lloyds Bank (LLOY.L) is set to reduce its office space by a fifth as part of a push towards flexible working. It plans to shut 20% of its office space by 2023.

The majority of Lloyds' 60,000 staff moved to working from home last year as the pandemic struck. Chief financial officer William Chalmers said a recent survey of employees found 77% wanted to work from home at least three days a week even after the pandemic subsides.

WATCH: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?