The Culture of Overwork on Wall Street And in Silicon Valley

Following the lead of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, Credit Suisse is the latest financial behemoth to limit the working hours of its junior bankers, banning them from the office between 6 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Sunday. It’s a far cry from M-F, 9 to 5 but I guess mandating that these people take a single day off is worth something.

In her piece titled, “No sleep til world domination” for Al Jazeera America, Sarah Leonard provides brilliant commentary on why this is such a big move for a culture that prides itself on overwork:

The trouble is, these hellish on-call conditions do not exist because Wall Street’s work is so vital. They exist because financiers sustain their untouchable status by insisting that their work is vital and that they’re the only ones who can do it, that the world might stop turning if they took time to eat, sleep or call their mothers. Long hours are a source of self-worth for banking employees, and that’s one reason why bankers themselves are set to resist the new policies. Wall Street’s “masters of the universe” believe that they are, and employ, the smartest and hardest-working people on earth (thus the hauteur with which they address regulators and Senate committees). The Financial Times quotes a banker on Credit Suisse’s new policy saying, “If you don’t like the idea of a hard internship followed by a permanent position with very grueling hours I have a novel suggestion. Perhaps you should choose a different career more suited to you?” If bankers were to work 9 to 5, they might have to admit that finance is just a job.

Leonard argues that “the sheepish reduction in working hours by formerly untouchable banks points toward…Wall Street’s waning hold on the American imagination.” Of course, we can not just have empty space in our imaginations where we don’t fetishize an entire industry. We need a replacement! That replacement is obviously Silicon Valley, who are also conveniently (for capitalism?) not such big fans of work-life balance:

For employees down the chain, tech companies cover work expectations with a pleasing veneer of flexible schedules, unlimited vacation and offices packed with toys. Like Wall Street, Silicon Valley wants the smartest kids, but tech billionaires such as Peter Thiel and Mark Zuckerberg favor young programmers who have dropped out of their fancy colleges. These kids work brutal, demeaning hours just like their New York counterparts. What Silicon Valley has so masterfully done is disguise this labor as a lifestyle choice. Young employees choose to code all night. They love their visionary CEO calling with another great idea at 3 a.m. It’s hard to feel exploited while wearing flip-flops, balancing gently on an exercise ball.