HAPPINESS AT WORK

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A few weeks ago, Kevin Roose’s new book came out titled: “Young Money - Inside The Hidden World Of Wall Street's Post-Crash Recruits”. Roose spent three years “shadowing” (as he says) eight young Wall Street analysts working for Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.

The world of finance has always drawn mixed feelings from me.

Kevin Roose’s new book: Young Money

Kevin Roose’s new book: Young Money

On one side, I realize that many of the pleasurable technological breakthroughs that we enjoy today in our lives come from someone with money investing in an innovative and risky idea. My personal experience with the various projects that I was involved me told me that most of these investors made their money by using the stock exchange in one way or another. These people are just like you and me, they shop, live, love, and experience life’s many wonders. I usually find people nice, and finance types are no exception.

On the other side is the institution that lies behind it all. The ruthless world of hardworking, intelligent people who are living and breathing numbers and ratios, giving the impression that the “human factor” simply does not exist. The banking companies sacrificing talented people by overworking them like the slaves of old.

Oh yes, these slaves are paid, usually twice what similarly educated and talented people could gain elsewhere… working half the hours. The hourly cost for the company is optimized through long hours and short vacations.

I suppose that I don’t KNOW this for sure. This is the idea I get from the media, the internet and Hollywood entertainment. But Roose certainly ads to this general idea in his book.

Case in point, the interview published by Andrea Park on the Metro website:

“How’s their game?”

Asks the interviewer Andrea Park referring to partying and dating practices of the young bankers. The answer comes:

“It’s a little bit of a social liability – at least it was in 2011, 2012 – to say you’re a banker. It can shut down your game if the person you’re talking to supported the Occupy movement – an instant conversation killer. I talked to one guy at Goldman who said he was a consultant because he found it worked better. There’s a certain cachet in certain orders. You’re better off saying you’re a lawyer.”

Kevin Roose

Kevin Roose

Wow! It isn’t cool to be working on Wall Street! The money-is-everything ethos carried by Goldman-Sachs doesn’t make good dating partners. When it is better to say that you are a lawyer to date someone, it says a lot about perceived image.

In an article written by Kevin Roose himself, he expresses his conviction that the eight bankers he “shadowed” for three years weren’t happy. His obvious next question: why is this so?

He hypothesizes three main reasons:

  1. The hours
  2. Money
  3. Purpose

This is interesting. The first point that he thinks is the root of unhappiness is the amount of time spent at work. 100 hours a week he says. That is an average of 14 hours a day, everyday. This represents close to 80% of an average healthy person’s waking time of 17 or 18 hours. I can easily understand that selling off 80% of your disposable time might make one unhappy. Why would anyone do that? Oh, Money.

Well… Roose argues that the earnings are below those expected by the crowd he followed. Well then why work so much? The answer lies in the third hypothesis made by Roose: Purpose.

He writes:

“It might sound strange, but many young people come to Wall Street expecting to make the world a better place. This is partly the fault of recruiters, who tempt college juniors and seniors with promises of “real-world responsibility” and rhapsodies about socially responsible investing. But it’s also wishful thinking on the recruits’ part.”

Expecting to make the world a better place doesn’t sound the least bit strange to me. It certainly would make sense if I were an elite scholar from an Ivy League college. I do agree however that it is naïve and wishful thinking on the recruits’ behalf. But I believe humans are naïve optimists who will persist in their erroneous behavior, trying to justify it any way they can.

In fact, they are working to express their purpose. They discovered that the purpose they are serving is not the one they wished. But they stayed anyway because they genuinely felt they could make it, beat the system, make money and be ethical, and make the world a better place.

And I'm sure they can... though I doubt it can be through Wall Street.