Before I get into this, I feel it’s important to explain where I’m coming from. You see, I had a turbulent childhood. Not “damn, my mom won’t buy me a Power Pad!” turbulent, I only wish that had been the extent of my troubles growing up. I won’t get into too much detail as I’m pretty sure distant relatives of mine don’t like me putting my business on blast in front of the entire internet, but let’s just say my mother had periods of instability that led to me being handed off to various family members for months at a time.
As you can imagine, this was pretty difficult to deal with as a kid. I struggled with making connections at school, as no sooner would I get comfortable than the tornado would come whipping through my little world yet again and off I would scatter to the next place until things were calm again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Well into adulthood, I clung to this trauma. It defined me. In some ways, I found comfort in my pain because it was familiar. Over the years various mental health professionals would plead with me to face it and work through it, a suggestion I balked at if for no other reason than some misplaced fear that I didn’t know who I would be if I didn’t have that pain. I remember at some point in high school telling some blank-faced psychiatrist in a Mr. Rogers sweater that I was proud of my trauma, it made me stronger and more equipped to deal with anything life threw my way. Ugh, I actually believed that.
Can you see where I’m going with this?
By now, you all have surely heard about the Goldman Sachs juniors who spoke up about the conditions at their coveted workplace. If you missed it, here’s a quick catch-up from The Guardian:
Junior staff who used to tolerate long working hours thanks to office camaraderie have been forced to manage burnout at home, alone, throughout the pandemic. Some have started demanding change, while others are plotting their exit. What began as a little local trouble at a US office in February has now spread to the UK.
“It used to be either you get paid a lot, and your life is hell, or your life is better and you’re not paid that well,” one London-based banker, hired by Goldman last year, said. “At the moment we have neither.”
The banker, who spoke to the Guardian on the basis of anonymity, said staff were worried about speaking out on issues including 18-hour shifts that left juniors earning less than the living wage, or the number of colleagues on sick leave due to burnout. The employee – who is one of 100 recruits hired to work at Goldman each year – did not want their gender disclosed due to fear of repercussion.
Interesting how COVID has so deftly exposed so many issues that were always kind of bubbling under the surface (mental health, a shitty economy, dysfunctional workplaces) but never got much bandwidth due to everyone just trying to suck it up and get through the day. Maybe the prospect of an easily-spread virus that could kill you at any moment caused everyone to kind of wake up at once and realize there’s more to life than this, idk.
The Goldman juniors knew what they were getting into, right? I mean, they had to. And this is where the noble suffering comes in.
For decades, public accountants suffered through the long hours, short-handed teams, and unreasonable expectations because that’s what you do. You heard this from your professors, many of whom are just pimps for Big 4 firms whether they realize it or not. If you dared to speak out about any of it, you were shunned because what kind of pussy can’t hack 80 hours a week at the peak of busy season?
Here’s the thing about that. Working long hours on an understaffed team doesn’t mean you’re any better at your job than the industry accountant clocking eight solid hours a day. Sure, there’s something to be said for thriving in less-than-ideal conditions but I’m here to tell you that there’s more to life than surviving another day. Your ability to eat shit day in and day out isn’t a soft skill to brag about. With baseline stress at all-time highs and a deadly virus making everyone realize how short life is professionals are realizing that their unnecessary suffering is not only NOT noble but completely unnecessary.
“Before the pandemic, work drinks and the ability to escape on snatches of annual leave made the relentless pace of work seem worthwhile,” one trainee lawyer recently told the Financial Times regarding unreasonable work-life balance these days. “Now, without the distractions of the perks and with more head space to consider our options, it’s increasingly obvious to some of us that we have made questionable life choices.”
This mentality — that a few vodka cranberries can somehow make up for a highly dysfunctional workplace — has long pervaded the profession. Yeah it sucks but we have jeans Friday. Yeah it sucks but there’s a doughnut cart once a week during busy season. YEAH IT SUCKS BUT WHAT ABOUT THAT SWEET FIRM-BRANDED FLEECE YOU GOT. Oh and you’re welcome for all the free pens.
Fuck that. Working 80 hours a week with no overtime for months at a time IS STUPID. And it certainly isn’t noble.
Let’s not forget how EY screwed everyone out of PTO in the middle of the pandemic to save $36 million a year, citing the new policy as a way to “eliminate entitlement mentality” of staff who — gasp — think they actually deserve a break every now and then. If you think the firm cares or even values your suffering well, I have a bridge to sell you.
So let it go. Stop trying to tap into your accrued suffering as if it’s some benefit to you. All it is is evidence of your employer’s view that you are but a pig’s asshole ground into sludge and stuffed into a rubbery sausage casing.
You Can Easily Replace ‘Investment Banking’ with ‘Public Accounting’ In These Reactions to the Goldman Sachs Workplace Abuse Claims
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EY Changes Its Vacation Policy, Oh and BTW They’re Not Paying Out Accrued PTO If You “Leave”