Banking sector now the battleground over ‘inhumane’ work culture

Our latest WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at the fall-out from the infamous Goldman Sachs internal survey of working conditions. Do we risk reverting to the all-hours office?

One of the silver linings in the dark cloud of the global pandemic was the hope that companies around the world could use the crisis to reset their working culture, move away from long hours spent in the office and create a better balance between work and life. ‘No going back to the old ways’ was the universal refrain.

Goldman Sachs chief executive David Solomon was quick to shatter that dream. He called the remote-work culture an ‘aberration’ that needed to be corrected as quickly as possible – and he became a global cheerleader for the back-to-how-to-was-before brigade advocating a total return to the old-style office. He simply wasn’t giving an inch to new ways of working.

Now Goldman Sachs is embroiled in a PR nightmare over its ‘inhumane’ working culture following the leaking of an internal survey by a disgruntled group of the company’s junior banking analysts – this revealed 100-hour weeks, crushing workloads, bullying and abuse by colleagues, and a devastating toll on their physical and mental health. You can read the report here.

In response, Goldman Sachs has blamed the extraordinary conditions of the pandemic for stretching the firm’s resources and has vowed to ‘protect Saturdays’ in a bid to appease junior staff. Such comments are unlikely to provide much reassurance.

Into the debate has stepped Citigroup chief executive Jane Fraser, who has written to her own staff calling for a reset of the way the bank works. In an internal memo sent to Citi employees and seen by the Financial Times, Fraser said she will initiate ‘Zoom-free Fridays’, forbidding internal video conferences on that day. Recognising that boundaries between work and home are becoming blurred amid the lockdowns, she said staff should ‘try to avoid’ scheduling video conferences outside of what were normal working hours before the pandemic struck.

In the memo, Fraser also called on staff to take their vacations and gave all employees May 28 off as a ‘reset day’. She also sketched out a new working model for Citigroup once the crisis has passed, saying that she wants ‘a bank with a soul’. Most roles will be designated as ‘hybrid’, with at least three days spent in the office, which will support collaboration and camaraderie. Some roles, for example in branches and data centres, will remain full time in-person, and there will be ‘somewhat rarer’ fully remote roles.

Although some commentators have pointed out that highly paid bank analysts are less deserving of sympathy than many other workers who also face back-breaking hours and have far less choice in the matter, the banking sector is clearly becoming a key battleground in the struggle for the future of work.

Will the ‘new normal’ prevail, or will the ‘old normal’ reassert itself? Millennial and Generation Z  recruits, who are in hot demand and can choose where they want to work, will presumably have the deciding vote.

Diving into data

It’s not just banks that are wrestling with a new hybrid workplace model for the post-pandemic era. Most organisations would agree that the future of work just got a whole lot more complex. Collaboration no longer only happens in person, work no longer happens only in an office. The acceleration of remote work and distributed teams means a dynamic realignment of workspace strategy to address unpredictable new patterns of digital and physical interaction.

Having the data to analyse and understand these patterns is key to future success, and some companies have already embarked on the journey to digital transformation. Others are hesitating at the gate, unsure of when to move and what the process might be.

An upcoming WORKTECH Webinar, Diving Into Data: How to Get Workplace Transformation Right, will call upon experts from Vergesense, PwC and Deutche Bank to share their experience and pave out the journey to successful workplace transformation. The webinar will be held on 8  April 20121 at 17:00 GMT / 12:00 EDT. The expert panel will discuss the journey to workplace transformation using data as a key to unlock insights and inform critical business decisions. The webinar will reveal practical use cases, best practice, and research around data-driven workplace transformation. Find out more and book your place here.

Final call: Workplace Innovation APAC goes live

WORKTECH Events is introducing its Workplace Innovation virtual event to the APAC region on Thursday 25 March 2021. Following the success of the event in Europe and North America, the event will explore the latest innovative thinking in workplace in the APAC region and call on the expertise of a range of organisations, including Swinbourne University of Technology, Condeco,  PwC, Australia Post and Mirvac.

The WORKTECH Guide to Workplace Innovation will be launched alongside the event. This guide surveys the key players in workplace technology and presents a ‘Who’s Who’ in the sector to inform organisations looking to start their digital transformation. The event will also share new global case studies and research, and offer insight into the latest thinking around cutting-edge technologies such as robotics, AR and VR, data analytics and AI.

Book your place at the conference here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 24 March 2021.
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