Has Goldman Sachs Wimped Out?

Has Goldman gone soft? The infamous vampire squid of the financial world is acting like some wussed-up PetSmart. According to published reports, the firm is going to start allowing associates to GO HOME ON WEEKENDS. And actually try to establish some sort of WORK-LIFE BALANCE.

Thank goodness CEO Lloyd Blankfien wasn’t a pharaoh. The pyramids would never have been built.

It is said that millennials, the generation of young Americans in their 20s and 30s, aren’t as interested in working non-stop in subservient corporate anonymity for the promise of a defined benefit pension plan as were baby boomers. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit has been replaced by the dude in the flannel shirt.

Cynics say the “Everybody Gets a Trophy” generation is lazy, self-indulgent and unwilling to sacrifice. More tolerant observers view millennials through a different, more positive lens, however. Millennials aren’t lazy or selfish – they pull all-nighters with the best of them – but don’t want to do it every weekend. They want some semblance of meaning in their lives, and meaning is rarely found buried in a spreadsheet on Saturday night. They want to work at a place that reflects their values – is that too much to ask?

This has not gone unnoticed in the pages of Talent Management magazine or in this column, Psychology at Work. For that matter, the overall trend toward a humanistic workplace has not gone unnoticed by anyone in business with a pulse.

Although some would argue the millionaire leaders of Goldman Sachs actually DON’T have a pulse – that would imply the existence of a beating heart – the message seems to have finally reached them in the cloistered towers of Wall Street. In a statement, a senior vampire squid – I mean banking executive – announced that junior employees at Goldman would be encouraged to take weekends off henceforth. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” said David Solomon, co-head of the investment banking division at Goldman Sachs. “The goal is for our analysts to want to be here for a career. We want them to be challenged, but also to operate at a pace where they’re going to stay here.”

Makes sense to me. Wise, even. Goldman, and firms like it, are infamous for swallowing the best from our elite universities and spitting them back out in a few years, hollow and dispirited. Maybe Goldman’s actions portend a sea-change in the early-career development of America’s cognitive elite; I certainly hope so. I have written about Goldman before – not very nicely – and I will be rooting that their baby steps toward a more  humanistic workplace catches on throughout the business stratosphere.

Not everyone is rooting for them, however. Like the thrice-married Jack Welch, former CEO of GE. Aficionados of Welchian forays into the humanistic work practice arena fondly recall June of 2009, when he told the annual meeting of the Society for Human Resource Management to forget about work-life balance: “There’s no such thing as work-life balance,” Welch said. “There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” Work or quit, in other words. Talk about a skunk at a birthday party.

But don’t worry, Jack. Not everybody has gone soft on millennials. We still have law firms.