Give Us Almost All of Your Time!

Give Us Almost All of Your Time!

Goldman Sachs has discovered the milk of human kindness and has decided to restrict interns to no more than 17 hours a day.

Allowing for travel time, this would appear to allow for as much as 4 and 1/2 hours of sleep at most a day.

I’m confused. I’m having trouble understanding what they are trying to get from these interns. I’m sure to some it seems like the company is trying to get every possible waking moment of labor they can squeeze out of them while evading the bad publicity of a death. But you would think they have plenty of money to hire interns and even treat them well. Is there an element that I am just not getting here? Is it a kind of fraternity initiation? Does this indicate a kind of hazing for admittance into the upper echelons of finance?  There has been evidence suggesting that fraternity members dominate the great investment houses. Could it be that frat boys are always frat boys? Maybe they have so many applicants, working them to the breaking point is just one way of winnowing them out.

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Give us almost all of your time!

Certainly, if I were managing a company, the idea of people doing work for me with less than five hours of sleep for days on end would worry and appall me. And I would consider myself both a fool and a villain if I made them do it.

As a business ethics issue, the answer is clear. Working people 17 hours a day is wrong.

But what doesn’t make any sense here is that not only is there no need for this, it is counterproductive. At least in theory, high finance requires good judgment and high cognitive skills – reasoned judgment. How do you get that out of the sleep deprived?

I assume someone is asking, “How does this blogger know that 4 and 1/2 hours of sleep is too little, didn’t Margaret Thatcher brag about only sleeping four hours a night?”

My first response would be, “She’s probably a strong case for that being too little sleep but let’s do science instead of swapping anecdotes.”

Studies of people with four and six hours of sleep a night compared with a control group of eight hour sleepers showed significant cognitive losses among the short timers. You can read about that here.

Sleeping less than five hours a night has been connected to false memories as well as reduced reaction time. You can read about that here.

However, for this one from the Guardian, I have to quote –

Getting too little sleep for several nights in a row disrupts hundreds of genes that are essential for good health, including those linked to stress and fighting disease.

Tests on people who slept less than six hours a night for a week revealed substantial changes in the activity of genes that govern the immune system, metabolism, sleep and wake cycles, and the body’s response to stress, suggesting that poor sleep could have a broad impact on long-term wellbeing.

The changes, which affected more than 700 genes, may shed light on the biological mechanisms that raise the risk of a host of ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stress and depression, in people who get too little sleep.

I believe I have established beyond a reasonable doubt that forcing employees to work so many hours that they are sleep deprived impairs their performance significantly. And since we can reasonably assume that the executives at Goldman Sachs have the same internet access that I do, what gives?

I have a theory and it runs like this. I was watching an expert on firearms talk about the Japanese weapons of the Second World War. He was asked why the Japanese developed the sub-machine gun at the very last stage of the war when the Americans and Europeans had adopted it in the 1930’s. He said the old timers in the service had never had them, didn’t see why anyone would want the new-fangled weapons anyway and since they hadn’t had them and had got along fine, they weren’t necessary. So, my guess is that the current leadership of the company was treated badly, hazed and worked countless hours and if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for the new guys. After all, didn’t it make them the successful men and the successful company they are today?

Now any careful examination of the facts indicates that doing this to employees is counterproductive but we are up against the male mythology of toughness and traditional manhood against which reason is unavailing. And what is truly sad is that this is finance, one of the most cerebral fields of endeavor open to humankind. They’re not branding cattle, fighting in the ring, or playing football. They are crunching numbers on a main-frame and negotiating.

Getting across the idea to new hires that sheer dogged persistence in the face of pain and declining performance is the key to success is not the lesson you want to convey to successive generations of investment bankers, but that is just what the company has decided to do and is going to do.

Judgment is based on reason and facts not the memories of how awful you were treated when you were young and how it made you the man you are today. That’s a fantasy, a fantasy continually used to justify treating people badly. It’s wrong and it is poor business ethics.

James Pilant

Goldman Sachs restricts intern workday to 17 hours in wake of burnout death | Business | The Guardian

Go home before midnight, and don’t come back before 7am. Goldman Sachs – one of Wall Street’s toughest firms – has told interns they have got to work hard, but not too hard.

The new rules, introduced for this summer’s crop of investment banking interns, have been introduced “to improve the overall work experience of our interns”, a Goldman Sachs spokesman said. All of its summer interns across the world were informed of the new working hours rule on their first day in the office earlier this month.

Wall Street’s shift to caring capitalism comes in the wake of the death of a 21-year-old Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern who had regularly pulled all-nighters in a desperate bid to impress his bosses.

via Goldman Sachs restricts intern workday to 17 hours in wake of burnout death | Business | The Guardian.

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