People Working in the Office Spend 25% More Time on Career Development

(Bloomberg)—Workers in the office spend 25% more time in career-development activities than their remote counterparts, according to new data from a team of economists who have analyzed working from home since the pandemic began.

Those who came into work devoted about 40 more minutes a week to mentoring others, nearly 25 more in formal training and about 15 additional minutes each week doing professional development and learning activities, according to WFH Research, a group that includes Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

The figures, based on surveys of more than 2,400 US adults who are able to work from home, lend quantitative support to CEOs such as JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon and Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman, who have said that workers — particularly younger staff — need to be on-site more often than not to learn and develop alongside more experienced colleagues. Wall Street banks have been in the vanguard of corporate campaigns to get workers back to offices more often, but those efforts have clashed with workers’ demands for flexibility in what is still a tight labor market. This has resulted in an ever-changing morass of hybrid arrangements.

Nearly half of employees who can work from home have a hybrid arrangement, while just over a third are fully on-site and 20% are fully remote, data from WFH Research show. The new figures support the shift to hybrid work schedules, as workers “need a few days each week to mentor and be mentored,” said Jose Maria Barrero, a member of the research group from Mexico’s ITAM business school.

While bosses are banging the drum on the value of in-person mentoring and professional development, they’ve had little to support their arguments beyond vague references to the power of so-called “watercooler moments” when workers spontaneously connect to share ideas and advice . Now they have the WFH data, along with two new research papers: One, The Power of Proximity, argues that working in the same building “has an outsized effect on workers’ on-the-job training.” That effect is even more significant for younger workers, according to the paper, from economists Natalia Emanuel of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Emma Harrington of the University of Iowa and Harvard University’s Amanda Pallais.

“Older workers not coming back to the office may depress younger workers’ skill accumulation,” wrote the economists, who studied more than 1,000 software engineers between August 2019 and December 2020. “This may be particularly important as young workers learn the most on the job, benefit the most from proximity, and are much more likely to quit when proximity is lost.”

The second paper, from Harvard Business School’s Zoe Cullen and Richard Perez-Truglia of the University of California at Berkeley, found that when employees have more face-to-face interactions with their managers, they are promoted at a higher rate. “Employees’ social interactions with their managers can be advantageous for their careers,” the authors wrote, and this phenomenon could explain a third of the gender gap in promotions at the large financial firm they studied.

To contact the author of this story: Matthew Boyle in New York at [email protected]

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