Andrew Hill Commands can’t change culture at investment banks

Credit Suisse is the latest investment bank to issue an edict aimed at protecting the work-life balance of its junior employees – and it is getting roasted for it by bankers themselves.

Bloomberg reported (and the bank confirmed) that Jim Amine, global head of investment banking, had decreed in a memo that “analysts and associates in the US investment banking division should be out of the office from 6 pm Friday until 10am Sunday unless they’re working on an active deal”.

So ordered. Except that commanding your ambitious junior employees to limit their workload – Bank of America, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs have taken similar action – is quite likely to be useless, if not counter-productive. To change working practices requires a profound cultural shift, and judging from the reaction to the latest news that is not likely to happen soon.

“Dr JR”, commenting on the FT news story, writes

If you don’t like the idea of a hard internship followed by a permanent position with very gruelling hours I have a novel suggestion. Perhaps you should choose a different career more suited to you? No one forces you take the job in investment banking.

Credit Suisse is now “asking junior bankers to alert their seniors if they [are] working after midnight on a Sunday on a deal or pitch”, according to the FT. Tellingly, a Credit Suisse investment banking analyst promptly interpreted the memo the old-fashioned Wall Street way – by parsing the new rules themselves. He told the New York Times:

How much of a bright line will there be between a live deal and just an important pitch? There can be a gray area sometimes between what is live and what isn’t. The enforcement mechanism is what people will be really looking at.

And therein lies the paradox. An institution that has to use top-down memos from the boss to enforce more humane workplace practices is not an institution where juniors will be comfortable complaining to their bosses that they’re being overworked.