Why Goldman Sachs’ New Saturdays-Off Policy Won't Work

Published: Nov 07, 2013

 Finance       Workplace Issues       
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Last week, when I clicked on the headline, “Goldman Sachs Pushes Junior Investment Bankers to Take Weekends Off,” I assumed I’d be sent to a URL containing the words Comedy Central, or Funny or Die, or perhaps The Onion. Instead, to my surprise, I was taken to Bloomberg.com, where, in place of what I assumed to be a piece of satire, was a real piece of news, which included, among other quotes, this one from David Solomon, Goldman’s co-head of investment banking, explaining the rationale for the bank’s new workplace policy:

The goal is for our analysts to want to be here for a career. We want them to be challenged, but also to operate at a pace where they're going to stay here and learn important skills that are going to stick. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Which, at a glance, all sounded very nice, as if Goldman had in mind the lives of their young bankers and prospective young bankers when deciding to give them a break on the weekends (it’s just Saturdays off, not the whole weekend). But, of course, Goldman is not in the business of being nice, it’s in the business (as a bank, public company, and so-called golden child of Wall Street) of making money. And so every decision the bank makes has, at its core, money and, more specifically, profits. And in this case the money trail leads to personnel. That is, getting the most talented staff of young bankers the firm can.

To that end, it’s no secret that Goldman, as well as other top Wall Street firms, are falling way behind. As I’ve written about previously, the so-called top young talent in the U.S. is increasingly shunning Wall Street careers for tech careers. The likes of Goldman, Morgan Stanley, and J.P. Morgan, since the financial crisis of 2008, are no longer extremely highly desirable places to work. To say the least, their collective prestige has taken a nosedive, in part because the public has uncovered the fact that Wall Street firms have been up to no good as of late (to put it mildly) and no longer can they get away with hoodwinking the public into thinking that what they’re doing is the work of God (or even the work of a local deacon).

And taking the place of Wall Street banks at the top of the employer desirability ladder have been the top tech employers. Firms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others have become the most respected, the most desirable to work for, and the firms at which young employees can learn the most and make the most impact. And these tech firms have not only taken over the conversation across the country, if not the planet, they’ve also cultivated rather progressive workplace cultures (on-site organic-food food trucks, dance classes, fisheries, badminton courts, bowling alleys, etc., etc.). And it’s no secret that Goldman and other banks are having trouble competing with these tech firms when it comes to providing an impactful career, as well as when it comes to providing a fun, healthy, rewarding career.

Enter Goldman’s Junior Banker Task Force, the official group that was formed, according to Goldman, in order to improve workplace conditions and career development for young bankers (analysts and associates). That is, to try to compete with those darn tech firms. And the Task Force’s first directive is this new policy of Saturdays off for all young bankers (which begins this weekend). But will it work?

In a word: no.

What Goldman hopes will happen, in part, by enacting the policy is young bankers will be wooed by a more congenial workplace. But a harsh work environment (and by harsh I mean working long hours, including all weekend) isn’t what’s sending young talent to the tech industry in the first place. Instead, it’s the aforementioned fact that Goldman, the Morgans, and other big banks (Barclays, UBS, BofA, etc.) have been up to no good, and have lost much, very much in fact, of their reputations. What was once looked upon as one of the hottest-shot jobs there was (back in the early aughts if you worked at Goldman you were nearly assured that your career, no matter where it went if you ever left the firm, would be a pretty high flying one, not to mention the fact that if you told someone you worked for Goldman they’d very likely be pretty impressed) is now looked upon as a devilish, selling-your-soul one. I’m only talking about perception, but perception, as some believe (or know), is everything.

Which is to say that young talent wants to work hard. They care less about working fewer hours and bowling and badminton than working for a respectable institution and for a firm that’s creating the conversation, not reacting to it (for example, Twitter, in its IPO today, was the one calling the shots, not the banks helping it go public). Young talent wants to work for firms they can be proud of. They want to work for firms that are involved not in shady dealings to stay afloat but in respectable sectors of the economy. They want to work for firms that are at least trying to do some good for their fellow man. In fact, once upon a time, when Wall Street had more respect as a valuable career path, its young bankers wouldn’t complain about working all-nighters, they’d actually brag about it.

Certainly, I’m not implying that tech firms are angels (they have their dark sides, too) or that Wall Street banks, including Goldman, shouldn’t take a long look at their workplace cultures and workloads forced upon its juniors. In light of the recent death of Moritz Erhardt, an intern at Bank of America, Wall Street has no choice now but to take a long look at it what its young bankers are doing late at night, night after night. But, it’s necessary to note that this conversation starts at the top—after all, it’s the VPs, MDs, and partners who are shoveling the workloads down upon their underlings. And they’re shoveling it down for one reason: to close as many deals as possible in as short of time as possible in order to make as much bonus money as possible in as short as time as possible.

In any event, banks must, if they truly want to attract top young talent in America again, not just improve their workplace cultures, but also improve the very roots of their business. They must improve their integrity, they must improve their very mission, they must improve and look at why they’re in business, what their in business for, and who they’re helping. And only when they get back to helping others, and not themselves, will they be able to compete with the firms they’re losing to talent to. Until then, all the days off in the world, for all the junior bankers in the world, won’t do anything to improve the bottom line. And, in fact, it'll probably hurt it.

Follow me @VaultFinance.

Read More:
Goldman Pushes Junior Investment Bankers to Take Weekends Off (WSJ)
Death of BofA Intern Shines Brighter Light on Killer Workweeks