Thursday, October 31, 2013

Goldman Sachs and Work-Life Balance

Goldman Sachs announced this week that it had instituted ways to improve the work experience of analysts (in its BA program) and reduce the number of hours they work each week. It's the lore of investment banking to hear stories of analysts and MBA associates, too, who work long hours that stretch through the weekend and through holidays and vacation time.

Goldman acknowledges that it is missing out on some top talent, when recruits have selected other finance jobs or industries because of work-life-balance issues. Talented BA's and MBA's will express an interest in corporate finance, will have the aptitude and drive to work on deals and with important clients, but, as Goldman sees it, they back out and accept offers elsewhere. And they may whisper to Goldman and other major banks that it wasn't about the compensation.  Thus, they choose pathways that take them to the shorter hours and better lifestyles offered by hedge funds, smaller boutique firms, and the finance or strategy departments of non-financial companies.

Goldman, for its part, will discourage analysts from working weekends.

Big banks have tried to address these issues over the past 13-15 years, going back to the times when banks risked losing talent to dot-com opportunities. But the slope is slippery. They implement programs and try to change the culture. They make promises to recruits and junior bankers.

Yet in the trenches, old managerial habits surface, and analysts and MBA associates are pushed to extremes to help in deals, to do extensive modeling and research and to participate in elaborate client pitches. No matter how hard banks try to tweak and twist the work culture, mid-level bankers face unbearable pressures to win deal mandates, generate revenues, manage risks and comply with new regulation--without regard to firm rules about working weekends or until midnight. For some middle and senior bankers, there is a little bit of "because I did it, they ought to, too."

Often the messages of improving work experiences, coming from senior managers far removed from deals and clients, are lost in execution or not enforced fairly or properly. The deal, the pitch and the demands of the client becomes the modus operandi.

Still, because this is Goldman, the industry will watch how this unfurls. Goldman has said that, if necessary, it will hire more analysts to compensate for work not getting done during weekends.

The reports, at least what has come out, don't address work-life issues for MBA associates. Therefore, although the firm likely wants to improve work experiences for the older group, it wasn't ready to say they (the associates) can have all weekends off, too.

Tracy Williams

See also:

CFN:  Delicate Balance:  Long Hours and Personal Lives, 2010
CFN:  Is I-Banking Still Hot? 2011
CFN:  Summer-Internship Experiences, 2010

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