There are at least two types of “offers that you can’t refuse”. There’s the kind which you can’t refuse because it’s so generous, and there’s the kind which you can’t refuse because something nasty will happen to you if you do. But there’s also the kind where you can’t tell if it’s one or the other or both, in which case it usually makes sense to accept it any way and try to look happy about it. That seems to be the position which employees of Rokos Capital Management have found themselves in, as the hedge fund industry starts returning to Mayfair.
The package for returning Rokos staff certainly seems generous. Staff have been told to stay off public transport, and given a £150 ($191) daily taxi budget to help achieve this. Although this generosity isn’t limitless – if you can’t get to and from your house for £150, you’re told to keep working from home – it seems reasonable to suppose that if the firm is prepared to spend up to £30,000 a day on taxis for its 200 employees, it will also have spent money on other precautions; coffee at work, prepared lunch boxes, monogrammed facemasks and the like.
However, according to an unnamed “source”, you need to read between the lines. Although an email memo to all staff seemed friendly, and emphasised that “all employees are invited back … however, only if the individual feels comfortable”, it was reportedly taken “very much taken as an instruction for us to get back into the office.” This will be pretty familiar to most of us – there are some bosses who can “suggest” or “wonder if you might consider”, and give it the force of a drill sergeant’s screamed command. If everyone else is going back into the office, peer pressure also starts to come into play; in order to be the among the last few holdouts, you either need to be very strong-willed or very scared.
This combination of carrot and stick is likely to be experienced by everyone in the industry over the next six months (perhaps at a somewhat lower per capita budget). Presuming that there isn’t such a second spike in infections that the lockdowns get reimposed, and presuming that bigger firms than Rokos are able to solve the logistical challenges of reorganising their real estate, at some point people are going to want to get back to something like the old way of doing things. Perhaps with a new appreciation of the merits of videocalls versus business travel, perhaps with a slightly more positive attitude to occasional homeworking, but basically back to the model of teams of a dozen or so people sitting next to each other and trying to make money. And that means that, hopefully in a reasonably sensitive manner (but remember, this is investment banking), the social and emotional pressure is going to build up on employees who don’t want to return to normal. Everyone’s going to be receiving “suggestions” and “invitations” which become progressively more and more difficult to refuse.
Daniel Davies – Read more on efinancialcareers.com