Feature

A stubborn culture of overwork

Change is afoot on Wall Street.

James SurowieckiThe New Yorker

Change is afoot on Wall Street, said James Surowiecki. “For decades, junior bankers and Wall Street firms had an unspoken pact: In exchange for reasonably high-paying jobs and a shot at obscene wealth, young analysts agreed to work 15 hours a day and forgo anything resembling a normal life.” But now we hear that Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and Credit Suisse are ordering their analysts to cut down their hours. That may not prove so easy: Wall Street’s culture of “overwork has become a credential of prosperity,” even though we’ve long known that “long hours diminish both productivity and quality,” leading to more mistakes, accidents, health problems, and declining creativity. The practice of overwork has nevertheless become a powerful habit for many reasons. On Wall Street, it’s generally cheaper to pay one person to work long hours than two to work decent ones. More importantly, keeping long hours has become “a kind of permanent initiation ritual” that bolsters Wall Street’s aggressive culture. “Working 15 hours a day doesn’t just demonstrate your commitment to a company; it also reinforces it.” It will be fascinating to see whether Wall Street can “still get bankers to run with the pack if it stops treating them like dogs.”

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