Behind Goldman Sachs' attempts to keep its employees happy

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Like it or not, Goldman Sachs has a reputation for being a hard taskmaster. In a recent post on the forum website Wall Street Oasis, one participant described the culture there as, a "little bit cut-throat and competitive." Similarly, respondents to Vault surveys bemoan a, “stressful culture that demands absolute excellence.” The implication is that Goldman Sachs a harsh place to that spits you out if you don't attain its exacting standards. This may be so, but the firm is at least trying to move away from this.

"It's very important for us to look after our people,"  says Caroline Styant, the EMEA head of reward at Goldman Sachs. "We have always had a very substantial wellness offering through which we try to enhance the whole working environment for our employees."

Most of the elements of Goldman's wellness programme are already public knowledge. In London there's the requisite on-site gym, the now-famous on-site creche, on-site doctors' facilities and TED-style "Talks at GS" (some of which are made public and some of which aren't). There are "protected weekends" for junior investment bankers and dress down for everyone in the technology division. There are also onsite psychiatric facilities. Five years ago, a former head of wellness at the Goldman Sachs said the firm had seen an increase in mental health problems after the financial crisis and that bankers were questioning what made them content.

Styant says Goldman's onsite facilities in London will be upgraded when the firm moves into its new building in Farringdon in 2019.  While there won't be any of the drawing on walls or acoustic guitars that distinguish J.P. Morgan's new office at Manhattan West, Styant says there will be upgraded exercise machines, superior communal areas and new cooking and art facilities for the children in the creche. The implication here is that GS is rather sedate: in Goldman's new(ish) Warsaw technology office, Styant suggests one of the most interesting innovations is stand-up meeting rooms.

Nonetheless, in style if not substance, the sands do seem to be shifting. A recent blog post on Goldman's careers site highlights the support the firm provides to employees going through, "significant life events." A young mother on Goldman's U.S. research team explains how the firm helped her when her baby was diagnosed with cerebal palsy and how the GS daycare centre has helped her child as it grows up with special needs. As a working mum you need to be "flexible" and to "forgive yourself," she says, adding that people at Goldman Sachs are incredibly "supportive."

This is not the rhetoric associated with masters of the universe. It's backed up independently by women working for the firm. "I much prefer working here," one senior female banker who joined from J.P. Morgan tells us. "The support network at Goldman Sachs is stronger, and women, generally speaking, are well-regarded and respected. From my intern class at JPM, I would say 70% of the females have left as they felt undervalued and undermined. All have gone on to far better roles at other banks."

The change in tone at Goldman might be down to demographics. Styant says Goldman's age-mix hasn't changed in recent times, but the firm does seem to be a little "older" than others. At PWC in the UK, for example, the average age is 28, whereas Styant says Goldman's average EMEA employee is in their "low 30s." This is the age when people often start families. "There has been more of a focus on enhancing the experience of working parents," says Styant. "A lot of employees are in this segment. At the same time, she says Millennials have a more "holistic approach" to reward: "They're not just compensation-focused. They're looking for ways to enhance their time on-site through things like training opportunities and access to great facilities."

Even so, Goldman could do more. Styant says the new generation want a "more relaxed culture at work." Having a reputation as a cut-throat and competitive employer might've worked for Goldman in the past, but it's unlikely to work in future.

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Photo credit: Happy by clement127 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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