Goldman Sachs Takes a Stab at Making Banking a Little Less Soul-Crushing

Crazy, right?

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

In the past few years, it’s become trendy to periodically wonder whether Silicon Valley is the new Wall Street. Such ruminations are often triggered by the latest reports on where newly minted college grads are headed, which really means Harvard kids. And yikes, was the banking sector in for a tough break this year. Over at Harvard Business School, a mere 4 percent of the class of 2015 said they intended to work at a bank after graduating in May. Among those respondents, only one was in the top 5 percent of the class. Tech, on the other hand, was attracting a reported 16 percent of Harvard’s MBAs, six of whom were at the top of the class.

Perhaps worse than where such elite grads were defecting to, though, was why. Here’s Bloomberg Business with the bad news:

Ruined weekends, PowerPoint drudgery and overnight shifts in Manhattan skyscrapers once were a point of pride for the Harvard Business School graduates who went to Wall Street. Now young stars hold heads high about how lucrative and healthy their lives will be—elsewhere.

“People used to brag and say, ‘Oh yeah, 21-hour days, seven days a week for eight months,’ that was a badge of honor,” said Kiran Gandhi, who like others in this year’s class applied to technology companies. “The humble brag is now, ‘Oh yeah, I work 9 to 5, I get paid a ton of money, and I have a great life.’ It’s green juice from vats in the office and amazing organic iced coffee cold-brewed—the quality of life.”

Yes, would-be millennial Wall Streeters want—gulp—work-life balance. Or at least the chance to work in a fun, cool, Google-esque office where work-life balance, if not exactly a real thing, at least seems gestured at thanks to free meals, nap rooms, yoga classes, and other perks. This, as you can imagine, puts the big banks of Wall Street in a tough position. They have long relied on money and prestige—but certainly not work-life balance—to attract and retain top talent.

In late 2013, Goldman Sachs took an early stab at trying to improve this, announcing that young investment bankers would be encouraged—even instructed—to take Saturdays off. Similar announcements quickly followed from other big banks, and the “protected weekend” was born. Now, Goldman is once again leading the charge to better things for junior bankers. From the Wall Street Journal:

Just a few years after scrapping its two-year analyst program for investment bankers, Goldman is again rethinking the way it structures bankers’ early years at the firm. The bank is dangling carrots, including promises to speed the path to promotions and eliminating some of the grunt work that often falls to younger employees.

That’s according to a memo Goldman sent around Thursday, and the result of what the Journal calls “soul-searching among banks” to “address grievances to keep young people on board.” Specific plans at Goldman include IDing earlier on which bankers are in line for promotions, creating a third associate year, and allowing bankers who stay on for that third year to rotate through another business division, possibly elsewhere in the world. Goldman will accelerate the path from associate to vice president to five and a half years from six and a half. And it intends to decrease the amount of grunt work analysts traditionally do by automating the most rote tasks.

Whether it will work is anyone’s guess. But it seems like a good, earnest start. When May comes around, we’ll check the Harvard MBA numbers.