Just How Serious Was the Now-Infamous ‘Intern Commandments’ Email?

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In yesterday’s “Buzz Around the Office,” we included a link to a Wall Street Journal article that exposed a tongue-and-cheek email sent from a Barclays’ analyst to incoming interns. It has since set the Internet on fire, both within the industry and in non-banking circles.

If you haven’t read it, click here. The email, titled “Welcome to the Jungle,” includes a list of "10 Power Commandments" that all interns should abide by. It is in many, dare I say almost all ways, satirical and self-deprecating. It was also a really, really dumb idea.

Lines like: "Have a spare tie/scarf or two around. You never know when your associate will run out of napkins,” are playful jokes. Others like: “I recommend bringing a pillow to the office (yoga mat works as well). It makes sleeping under your desk a lot more comfortable, in the very likely scenario that you have to do that,” probably didn’t have the interns who received the email rolling over in laughter.

The reactions have been polarizing. The Wall Street Journal’s own John Carney said on Twitter that if you reacted to the email with outrage “you are a humorless nitwit,” and that it was “self-deprecating…It is mocking itself.”

Gawker went the other way, bashing the “very f---ed up email” with a short paraphrase: “We sure look forward to treating you like garbage.” CNBC asked Barclays if the author of the email, second-year analyst Justin Kwan, was still employed by the bank. They declined to comment on that specifically but said they did not authorize the email.

The reaction should fall somewhere in between. Carney is right – the email is mocking itself and the perception of Wall Street culture, something bankers love to do. One former investment banker told us it was a “pretty innocent and standard joke welcome email,” and offered his sympathies to Kwan. The person who sent it to the media should be the one who is worried, he said.

However, the timing and the tone couldn’t have been worse. Wall Street is currently fighting two public perceptions: that it is a greed-inducing fraternity and that banks work young people to their wits’ end. Two bankers in their 20s who complained to loved ones about their work hours have died recently. They both fell from their apartment buildings; suicide is considered the likely cause in both scenarios.

The email is self-deprecating but it also mocks what are oftentimes true perceptions: working hours for juniors are unbearable and Wall Street still has a fraternal culture that leads to bad ways of thinking and, eventually, scandal. As a banker at a rival U.S. firm told us: “That stuff doesn’t fly here. Kid would be fired immediately.”

Perhaps the fairest takeaway comes from Bloomberg correspondent and former Goldman Sachs banker Matt Levine: “People will believe anything bad about investment bankers, and never put anything in e-mail.”

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