Sachdeva is a first-year analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s investment bank in London — or more precisely, in an attic bedroom at his parents’ home, working on a laptop while also video blogging his 16-hour workday. He starts by responding to emails, jots a to-do list, calls a colleague. Then he puts on jeans.
A few hours in, he turns to the camera: “This morning kind of went from busy to busy.” Sachdeva speaks soothingly and positively throughout his narration — “we power through” — yet he’s also capturing the trying times of the newest generation of finance workers.
Call them Wall Street Gen P — as in “Pandemic.” Those who are smart enough or lucky enough will one day become wealthy elites of global capitalism. And yet, to their elders’ shock, an unusual number of Sachdeva’s peers are already starting to question the Faustian bargain they’ve struck: Insane hours, ulcer-inducing stress, mind-numbing work, starting around $160,000 a year — but over a lifetime, much, much more.
The work-till-you-drop culture of global finance has come to the fore in new and surprising ways as Covid-19 has emptied office towers in New York, London and beyond. A recent internal presentation by junior analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. on their workload set Wall Street abuzz when the document found its way onto the internet. Several major banks, including JPMorgan and Goldman, have promised to lighten the load, but many in the industry wonder how long that will last once people return to offices.
The comments piling up on Sachdeva’s YouTube video from earlier this year capture some of the generational divides and thorny questions surrounding Wall Street’s work culture:
“You get more done in a day than I do in a month!”
“I can’t imagine this is particularly healthy.”
“This work schedule is ridiculous.”
“God what a terrible existence.”
Past bouts of industry introspection followed deaths of exhausted junior bankers by medical condition or suicide. This time, the flashpoints include the Goldman slide deck making a simple request to management: a maximum 80-hour work week. Commentaries and testimonials quickly lit up Wall Street’s anonymous message boards.
Some of those tensions recently emerged at UBS Group AG after it posted a recruitment video on social media that depicted a young banker stepping away for an hour to meditate and do yoga in the middle of her workday. As skeptical responses piled up, the firm took down the video.
The Swiss bank invited first-year analysts from the U.S. to a virtual town hall last week, where bosses stressed that it’s long been OK to unplug for an hour or two. The company protects time off on Saturdays and is seeking to reduce the burden on junior bankers by hiring more of them and spreading work to a bigger pool of people.
Still, people went online afterward to vent.
Representatives for UBS and JPMorgan declined to comment, and Sachdeva didn’t respond to messages seeking comment on his video.
JPMorgan has been offering fitness classes and Zoom lunches with senior bankers to give analysts more face time. Its investment bank is also using technology to reduce duplicate work on slide decks. Employees in the division are encouraged to take weekends off when no deals are looming, and to ask for one protected weekend off every month.
There’s little to suggest that the younger generation is lazy. Many of them graduated from the world’s top universities and beat out thousands of others for a chance at one of the coveted spots in an analyst program at a top bank.
Rather, there’s a recurring theme in their complaints: In a pandemic, the return on investment isn’t what was promised.
Instead of getting steeped in the frenetic atmosphere of a Manhattan or London deals desk, many are stuck at home, some with mom and dad a few steps away. Mentoring isn’t the same by email, phone and video conference. They’re missing out on the camaraderie of late nights with peers in the office or grabbing a quick drink once the day’s to-do list is finally checked off — interactions that stave burnout and build connections that span a career.
Meanwhile, with deals booming, many say there’s been no end to the stream of requests for slide decks, tweaks to slide decks, and tweaks to the tweaks — the inspiration for Wall Street’s “pls fix” meme. Some complain that in the age of Zoom calls, they’re also serving as de-facto secretaries for their managers, tasked with scheduling client calls and managing appointments.
On message boards, a growing throng is discussing strategies for getting out of the industry.
“Attrition has picked up,” said Logan Naidu, chief executive officer of Dartmouth Partners, which helps recruit junior bankers. “It’s been an uphill battle to keep their staff.”
The cries of junior bankers don’t elicit much sympathy in many circles. With unemployment elevated, society isn’t going to shed many tears for 22-year-olds making six figures the first year out of college. Some managers point out they put in their own 100-hour weeks when they started out. But fear of more defections is motivating.
In fact, the reality for Wall Street is that its propensity for overworking young people has been chipping away for years at its ability to attract and retain top candidates. Other industries, such as technology, are promising riches and flexibility. Just 3% of Harvard Business School’s class of 2020 opted for careers in investment banking, sales and trading. That’s down from 5% in 2016 and 12% in 2006, right before the financial crisis. Meanwhile, 19% of 2020 graduates landed jobs in tech, a figure that’s held steady over the last five years.
So banks are listening and making concessions.
Senior bankers at Goldman Sachs will start relying more on executive assistants to help manage schedules rather than using first-year analysts for such work. The firm promised to improve enforcement of its so-called Saturday rule, which discourages bosses from asking first-year analysts to do work between 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Sunday.
Citigroup Inc. executives unveiled a program dubbed internally as Work Smart to govern PowerPoint presentations, known for stretching to 50 pages. They’re now limited to just 15 pages.
Jefferies Financial Group Inc. said it’s buying Peloton Interactive Inc. and Apple Inc. products to reward junior bankers. Credit Suisse Group AG reached for its wallet too, offering junior bankers a one-time $20,000 “lifestyle award” for their troubles.
There’s skepticism that such measures will make much difference. And perhaps when the pandemic is over, junior bankers will just cope the way predecessors did — commiserating once bosses leave the office, and cutting loose once the last “pls fix” is done.
“I actually don’t think the banks are caving,” said Stacey Hawley, a career coach and compensation consultant. “The pandemic does make it hard for people to have any outlets to blow off steam — no eating out at restaurants, exercising at gyms, etc. As things open up and the weather gets nicer, it might help.”