Dr Ricardo Twumasi: Recent changes to workplace regulation could see an end to the old boys’ club

The modern workplace is evolving at a rapid pace. Societal norms around workplace culture, bullying, substance use and relationships have shifted significantly in the past few years. These changes have infiltrated sectors traditionally home to the ‘old boys’ club’ – typically networks of former pupils of male-only private schools – which are now reacting to pressures to foster workplace environments that are more culturally diverse. 

The financial services industry, which has traditionally struggled to adapt to the changing needs of a young and diverse workforce, has undergone significant change in recent months. Several areas within the industry have a reputation for substance-fuelled working environments, with employees drinking alcohol during lunch breaks or even during working hours.

But with news that the London Metal Exchange has now banned traders from daytime drinking, this is a reputation that we could see shed by 2030, if not sooner. The ban applies to all staff employed by members of its trading floor – a stark difference to the days of ‘liquid lunches’ and boozy client meetings.  In 2017, Lloyd’s of London also announced that it would ban its employees from drinking during working hours and bar anyone who had been drinking or was under the influence of drugs from the premises.

And more workplaces are following suit with clear substance use policies in place. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), the organisation that provides free impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law, introduced substance use policies to ensure alcohol and drug problems in the workplace are dealt with effectively and consistently. Removing the old boys’ club reputation from many industries through such regulation ensures these roles are more accessible to a broader range of people, who may have previously been excluded from such organisations due to the perceived after-work drinking pre-requisite.

A move away from the ‘psychological contract’

The expectations of an employee’s behaviour in the workplace have moved from an implied psychological contract – an unwritten set of expectations of the employment relationship – to one where most foreseeable types of behaviour now have clear policies and guidelines. While there is still the influence of the psychological contract in workplace behaviour, employees and managers now have detailed policies to fall back on. While some argue that modern HR departments have gone too far, with a plethora of strict rules and regulations dictating employee behaviour in place of common-sense behavioural norms, there is an important business, legal and ethical case for making an organisation’s values and policies explicit in written form. This enables a high-level of transparency over ‘unwritten rules’, and a clear medium to communicate standards and changes in work-related legislation.

But for many workplaces, a gap between written policy and actual practice. This means that in many cases, behaviour, and the implementation of policy is at the discretion of line managers, mentors or influential employees.

A move towards greater flexibility

Many workplaces are now moving to a more flexible model in order to improve work-life balance and attract a more diverse pool of talent. Many firms are offering flexible working hours, with recent statistics from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) showing 54 per cent of workers have the option of some form of flexibility in their time and place of work. And this goes a step further, with businesses implementing hot-desking to encourage more collaboration across departments and offering internal secondments to deploy different skills across the business. HSBC’s recent move to become one of WeWork’s biggest tenants is a particularly notable example of this flexible working shift.

Meanwhile, WeWork, known for its Silicon Valley model of attractive and flexible work spaces, offers a dedicated space for new mothers in every building, free healthy breakfasts and a number of community events that take place on a weekly basis. This campus model is becoming an increasing feature in the modern workplace and it is a far cry from the stoic workplaces of the financial services sector that we saw 10 years ago. With flexible working now common vocabulary in the workplace, HSBC’s decision to lease more than one thousand desks in London is a clear bid to create a more attractive offering to the next generation of financial services employees.

But the question remains as to whether recent moves from the financial sector’s large corporate businesses are evidence of genuine cultural shifts or solely represent a cosmetic change to the face of the industry. If this is the start of real change, the big players will need to ensure change is implemented from the bottom-up to demonstrate their ability to keep pace with the disruptive FinTech start-ups, and evidence their willingness to create a workplace that really does suit their employees today.