Saturday, April 9, 2016

Managing Generation Cupcake

Considering all of the rhetorical fire aimed at Wall Street bankers you would think that someone would ask whether this is veiled anti-Semitism.

Recently, a couple of dimwits suggested that Ted Cruz’s critique of Donald Trump’s assertion that he lived by New York values was really anti-Semitism. Should we not be asking whether those who are attacking big banks like Goldman Sachs are really the ones disseminating the calumny.

In the meantime, we know by now that American millenniums are not being very well prepared for doing much of anything. The culture and the school system is not doing them any favors by turning them into a group that values leisure, the devalues hard work, that thinks the world of themselves and that believes the only meaningful work is saving the world.

Megyn Kelly has dubbed us "cupcake nation.” Surely, the millennial generation has earned the title of cupcake generation. What happens when it enters the real world, especially the real world of banking? What happens when these people fresh off their stints in academic indoctrination mills arrive at major Wall Street banks?

From the perspective of the bankers, nothing very good. Apparently, generation cupcake has perfected the art of dropping out. Of late, young hires at the major banks have been leaving their jobs with alarming rapidity. In the past a young banker used to stay around for a couple of years before moving on. Today’s young banker picks up after a little more than a year.

For the bankers it’s a management problem. It would be nice to think that it’s separating the wheat from the chaff, but the companies are having trouble retaining staff. And since they have been cutting back on positions for managing directors and the like, people who command large salaries, they need young people to pick up the slack.

Serious investment bankers begin their careers by working very long hours, by sacrificing their social lives and by doing boring scut work. Eventually they are promoted to a level where they have a say in what is going on around them. They begin with documents, files, figures and graphs … and are eventually promoted to positions where they negotiate deals.

For want of a better term, the organization is military. You begin at the bottom of the status hierarchy and work your way up. When you are at the bottom you are not allowed to exercise very much initiative. You are basically told what to do. Your time is not your own and, if you do not enjoy the work or do not see a larger goal, you will have problems adapting. It’s worse when you have been taught that banking is an organized criminal conspiracy.

Obviously, these long hours and grueling schedules are more difficult for women than for men. They are physically punishing and women employees often pay a high price for doing as the boys do.

Of course, the higher you rise in the status hierarchy the less your time is your own. One needs to emphasize the point. If anyone told you that chief executives can do what they please when they please with whom they please, he was lying to you. The long hours test your dedication to the job and your ability to work under stress. Those who succeed are not sitting around whining about work/life balance. Most often they have a spouse at home who is bringing up the children.

Such organizations run on a strong work ethic, even an ethic of self-sacrifice. They want people to earn their way, to put in their hours, and to work their way up the hierarchy.

Today’s younger generation has a largely negative view of banking and of all status hierarchies. And they are tempted by Silicon Valley, by high tech, by a place where there is more opportunity to take initiative. Of course, hard work is hard work. Employees at Google work as many hours, but working for Google garners you more prestige than does working for the much-maligned Goldman Sachs.

Before one begins to feel sorry for Goldman Sachs one must note that its executives are often funding the universities and the politicians that teach their students to hold Goldman Sachs in contempt.

Obviously, some of these young bankers drop out of the rat race in order to go out and save the world. For reasons that escape me they believe that their do-goodism is more meaningful than investment banking.

The Wall Street Journal has tells the story of a Goldman Sachs banker trying to tell young recruits why they should stay with the bank for more than a year. He told them that if they put in four or five years they would be more marketable and have better chances at finding better jobs. It used to be common knowledge that job hopping does not look very good on your resume.

How did the junior bankers react to this sound advice? The Journal reports:

Some in the audience found his tone off-putting. It felt as though they were being lectured, even scolded, several of them said in interviews, rather than getting reasons to stay at the firm.

For decades, success on Wall Street followed a simple formula: Grind out years of marathon workweeks and menial tasks in exchange for a shot at helming deals and amassing millions. The industry’s biggest firms now acknowledge the math doesn’t work for many of their youngest bankers.

As I said, “generation cupcake.”

Telling them to think of their long term prospects does not sound, to me at least, like scolding. You would have to be very thin-skinned to think that it is.

Bankers are trying to figure out how to manage young people who are full of themselves and who want to have it all, here and now. So they are trying to adapt. They are offering more stimulating assignments, mandatory days off and even sabbaticals. Four weeks in Kenya in order to get the do-goodism out of your system….

For our part, we can address a larger issue. Could it be that these youngsters, filled full of high self-esteem, think that they can do more than they really can They are just out of college or business school and they believe that they can run the world. They do not believe that experience counts for much of anything. They want more responsibility, more authority and more stimulating work… and yet they are barely adults, have no experience in business, but think that they should be rewarded for being who they are.

Consider this: some young traders cannot hear instructions because their ears are blocked by ear buds… which are tuned in to God knows what. When did it become acceptable for young workers to listen to their music or podcast while at work? In olden days they would have been fired. Today, consultants tell managers to ask young people what they are listening to, the better to relate to them.

Also, generation cupcake needs constant reassurance, a constant flow of messages telling them how good they are. Now, no one is against reassurance, but this feels like too much of a good thing. It makes it appear that these youngsters are insecure and self-absorbed. Can you imagine a sergeant or a colonel sending out daily messages to new recruits telling them how good they are?

As it happens, when one young person moved on to Google she was granted more initiative and was allowed to follow up on her idea. Now, obviously, the corporate culture at Google differs significantly from that of the major banks, but one notes that said young women is still working 100 hours a week. Of course, comparing the ability to take initiatives when working up the data that will go into a prospective for mortgage backed securities is probably not what she was doing at Google. Are we simply comparing apples to oranges?

But, is Wall Street really reforming, and if it is, at what price? The effort to accommodate generation cupcake does pose problems.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Some young Wall Street bankers say initiatives to reduce long hours, however well-intentioned, are having unintended consequences. Analysts at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and other banks say mandatory days off have made it tough to spread out workloads, ramping up pressure when they are in the office. Analysts in a few Goldman groups say capping intern hours has undermined team dynamics and created tensions over division of work.

Some bankers are baffled by the attitude of their more junior colleagues. There is a pain point among midlevel bankers who “can sometimes get frustrated if the younger analyst isn’t as available as they want them to be,” says Mr. Waldron, Goldman’s investment banking co-head.

Nevertheless, he says, “just because other people worked 80 to 100 hours [each week] in their life history doesn’t mean these people should.”

Nor does it mean that those who want to work half as much should be earning what other people earn. If so, it is their right. If they want to settle for mediocrity, if hard work is too much for their delicate souls they will have different lives.

Of course, there is a market out there and the market will decide. One does not know whether individuals in different parts of America also belong to generation cupcake. Is it a function of New York values or is it pervasive in America?

If the former, then the banks will be tempted at some time in the future to decamp from the Big Apple, roughly as millionaires are now leaving Chicago, Paris and Rome in droves.

And, of course, if bankers in London or Singapore are willing to work longer and harder, it is altogether possible that the banking business will migrate to other parts of the world, to places where people have a better work ethic. That will mean: fewer cupcakes.


Sam L. said...

Leave hard work to the hard workers! And when those banking firms move off-shore, complain semi-vigorously.

Ares Olympus said...

I see Kelly talked recently about "Cupcake nation": Free Speech On College Campus - No American Flag - Cupcake Nation Alert - The Kelly File

Perhaps it is building on her older "Toughen up, Buttercup" phrase that she got from her personal trainer.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the correction....

KCFleming said...

Young doctors re also special snowflakes. They frequently call in sick, both men and women,

KCFleming said...

One colleague was complaining about how junior staff only got metal rather than wooden desks in their offices, calling it a 'microagression.'

Anonymous said...

1. I worked for Admirals & Generals. The ones I knew had schedules that planned their lives to the minute. They were virtual slaves to schedules.

I was lucky by comparison. I merely had to write speeches on my own. Sometimes 2 at the same time. No help or guidance. I never knew if any were OK. Fast feedback if one was not. V rarely happened. Started having nightmares AFTER retiring. Lucky.

2. I worked in a Chicago VA Hospital, early 70s. The med/surg Residents did 80 & 100 hour weeks. Always on call. I actually assisted at a 2 am emergency surgery. Patient went into shock, died.

They sure weren't snowflakes then. -- Rich Lara

Recruiting Animal said...

"Serious investment bankers begin their careers by working very long hours, by sacrificing their social lives and by doing boring scut work."

And you look down on people who don't think this is the way they want to live?