Goldman’s unlimited vacation is a mirage for workaholic bankers

Goldman Sachs’ move to offer senior bankers unlimited time off seemingly marks a step toward a softer side of Wall Street. But there’s policy, and then there’s practice.

Companies are experimenting with all sorts of employee-friendly policies — the four-day workweek, no-meeting Wednesdays, more casual dress codes — but unless they’re embraced by the firm’s leadership, they won’t make much of a difference. In a banking world where long holidays are generally frowned upon, providing partners and managing directors all the time off they want doesn’t matter if they simply don’t take it.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘You have unlimited PTO, take what you need,’ but that doesn’t change a culture,” said Cathleen Swody, an organisational psychologist and executive coach. “It depends on how much senior employees trust that they can take time off, and it’s not a black mark on them.”

Goldman Sachs chief David Solomon.Credit:Bloomberg

That trust is often in short supply inside hard-charging cultures like Goldman, whose Chief Executive Officer David Solomon last year called remote work an “aberration” and has pushed staffers to get back to the office. Even standard norms to separate work and holidays can be fraught.

Take the case of Nick Giovanni, who ran Goldman’s prominent technology, media and telecom banking unit. He turned on an out-of-office message when he went on holiday, a former colleague recalled. That was so unusual at the firm that it sparked murmurs among bankers speculating he was planning to leave.

Not long after that, Giovanni did quit, departing for Silicon Valley to become finance chief of Instacart, a grocery delivery app.

‘I have never paid attention to how many hours people are working. So, why should I care if [an] employee works 50 weeks a year or 48 weeks a year?’

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

Goldman’s new policy only applies to partners and managing directors, who can take time off when needed “without a fixed vacation day entitlement,” according to a company memo seen by Bloomberg. Junior employees still have limits on holidays but will be given at least two extra days off each year under the new policy, introduced at the start of the month. The bank is also requiring all employees to take at least three weeks off each year starting in 2023, including at least one week of consecutive time off.

Among companies with at least 100 workers, just 5 per cent offer unlimited time off, according to workforce consultant Willis Towers Watson. But the perk is becoming more popular as the tight labour market and rising levels of employee burnout force employers to get more creative with employee benefits.

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