“I Was Not Eating, Showering, or Doing Anything Else”: Young Goldman Analysts Reveal Grueling Climb Up the Finance Ladder
You would think that Goldman Sachs and David Solomon, its CEO since 2018, would be hitting on all cylinders. The year 2020 was one of the 152-year-old firm’s best, with net earnings of nearly $9.5 billion. It managed to settle the nettlesome 1MDB scandal for $2.9 billion and its stock continues to trade at or near its all-time high, and has more than doubled in the last year. The company has a market value of nearly $125 billion these days.
But instead of taking victory laps, Solomon seems stuck in a game of perpetual whack-a-mole. There seem to be problems most everywhere he looks. During the past few months, several of his most senior executives have quit, including Gregg Lemkau, a cohead of investment banking and someone thought of as a possible successor to Solomon. Lemkau went to work for Michael Dell, the billionaire computer entrepreneur and investor. Other recent departures include Karen Seymour, the general counsel; Omer Ismail, the head of Marcus, Goldman’s online banking business; and Eric Lane, the cohead of asset management. Some turnover in the top ranks at Goldman has always been a thing—and it’s not just at Goldman of course—but losing this much senior talent in a relatively short period of time feels unusual, although nothing like the mass exodus of 1994, when more than 40 Goldman partners left the firm. Goldman also has a deep bench, as they say, so none of the departures are fatal. As Charles de Gaulle said, “The graveyards are filled with indispensable men.”
Then there are what appear to be more self-inflicted wounds: A recent Bloomberg story about Solomon’s trips on the new Goldman private jet to the Bahamas, which included the nugget about how he criticized a younger Goldman banker who was at the same Hamptons restaurant as he was during the workday. Instead of slinking away quietly so he wouldn’t be seen as a slacker, he went up to Solomon, said hello, and earned his wrath. Then Solomon announced, seemingly out of the blue, that this work-from-home thing wasn’t really working for Goldman Sachs anymore. The sooner everyone got back to the office the better, he said. He’d been showing up to Goldman’s downtown Manhattan office most every day during the past year, so maybe the time had come for everyone else to start showing up too. (This bit of logic did not go over particularly well; Fox Business reported Wednesday that Solomon may be rethinking his edict.)
And now there is a devastating so-called Working Conditions Survey that Goldman conducted in February among its investment banking division, which reveals that morale among first-year analysts could hardly be much worse. “There was a point where I was not eating, showering, or doing anything else other than working from morning until after midnight,” one unnamed investment banking analyst—generally recent college graduates—shared with the firm. According to the survey—a PowerPoint of which is circulating around Wall Street to jaw-dropping effect—“on average,” first-year analysts at the firm have been working more than 95 hours a week and sleeping just five hours a night. For the week ending February 13, the first-year banking analysts worked a “mean” of 105 hours a week. The average time these employees go to sleep is 3 a.m. “Being unemployed is less frightening to me than what my body might succumb to if I keep up this lifestyle,” explains another analyst.
Being an investment banking analyst has always been brutal. Long hours are expected. But the career path—and having Goldman, or JPMorgan Chase or Morgan Stanley on your resume—is the prize. These days, first-year analysts get recruited away to private-equity firms, which have become the Holy Grail on Wall Street. Some even stay at the Wall Street banks and slowly work their way up the ladder of higher pay and greater responsibility. But not many.
Wall Street has known for years that its junior bankers are overworked, often to a fault. In recent years, many banks have instituted rules limiting how much junior bankers can work on weekends or requiring that the workday end at around midnight. In practice, though, these rules are often ignored in the crush of the daily grind. Working from home has merely exacerbated the problem. Analysts just keep working round the clock in their sweats, feasting on Seamless deliveries. The irony is that the rules about taking time off don’t seem to be having much effect. “My body physically hurts all the time and mentally I’m in a really dark place,” says another unnamed junior banker at Goldman.
It gets worse. The analysts say that their mental and physical health has deteriorated while working at Goldman. What had been a mental health rating of 8.8 on a scale of one to 10 before starting work at the firm was now a 2.8 out of 10. Physically, they had been at a nine out of 10 before working at Goldman; that assessment was now 2.3 on a scale of one to 10. The analysts were unified—100%—that working at Goldman had “negatively impacted” their relationships with their family and friends. Some 77% said they felt like they have been victims of “workplace abuse,” and 75% said they had considered getting counseling to try to improve their mental health due to the stress of the job. The analysts were also unified—100%—that they had been given “unrealistic deadlines” by their bosses, and 92% agreed that they had been either ignored or shunned in work-related meetings. Half said they had “frequently” experienced “unwarranted, invalid, or public” criticism. And 83% said they had experienced “excessive monitoring” or micromanaging. (On the plus side, only 17% said they had experienced “shouting” or “swearing.”)
Not surprisingly, this doesn’t add up to a whole lot of job satisfaction. Asked how satisfied the junior bankers were with the firm on a scale of one to 10, the mean response was a two. Same with their satisfaction with their work life. And their personal-life satisfaction clocks in at—wait for it—a one on a scale of one to 10. Curiously though, when asked if they would recommend Goldman as a place to work, the junior bankers responded with a 4.2 on the 10-point scale. They also seemed willing to recommend Goldman as a potential financial adviser if they were working someplace else. “What is not ok to me is 110-120 hours over the course of a week!” says another analyst. “The math is simple, that leaves 4 hours a day for eating, sleeping, showering, bathroom and general transition time. This is beyond the level of ‘hard-working’, this is inhumane / abuse.”
“We recognize that our people are very busy, because business is strong and volumes are at historic levels,” a Goldman Sachs spokesperson told me. “A year into COVID, people are understandably quite stretched and that’s why we are listening to their concerns and taking multiple steps to address them.” The survey offers some solutions on how to improve the work-life balance for the firm’s junior bankers: The workweek for the junior bankers should be set at a maximum of 80 hours; the no-work rule between Friday night at 9 p.m. and Sunday morning should be respected, not ignored; all preparation work for client meetings should end 12 hours before the actual meeting. “Junior team members often receive many comments right before meetings with the assumption that they can incorporate comments at a moment’s notice,” the survey reports. “This adds undue stress and is unreasonable as senior folks are essentially asking them to put everything else to the side immediately, when instead these comments could have been given and addressed at a more reasonable time.”
What’s clear is that the junior bankers would like to see some things change. “The sleep deprivation, the treatment by senior bankers, the mental and physical stress…I’ve been through foster care and this is arguably worse,” says another analyst. What’s not clear is if they will. The workflow is the workflow, and in boom times, like much of 2020 and so far in 2021, the work has to get done. Or, as Mike Milken is said to have told bankers at the defunct Drexel Burnham Lambert, “When the ducks are quacking, you’ve got to feed them.” That and the fact that it’s harder to get a job at Goldman Sachs than it is to get into Harvard: Demand for these jobs, as miserable as they seem to be, vastly exceeds supply. That fact doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon.
— How Will Kellyanne and George Conway Move On in a Post-Trump America?
— Mayoral Hopeful Andrew Yang on His Plans for New York City
— Inside Team Biden’s Freak-Out Over Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Trump Jokes
— Beto O’Rourke Wants to Save Texas From Ted Cruz
— What the Hell Is Going on With Bitcoin?
— Marty Baron Dishes in a Wide-Ranging Exit Interview
— On With the Show! See the 2021 Hollywood Portfolio
— Leak of Bombshell CBS Investigation Led to Multimillion-Dollar Settlement
— From the Archive: Why Do Dubai’s Princesses Keep Trying to Escape?
— Not a subscriber? Join Vanity Fair to receive full access to VF.com and the complete online archive now.
Published at Thu, 18 Mar 2021 20:48:29 +0000