JPMorgan on Thursday told its investment bankers that they should take weekends off when they’re not working on imminent deals.
The new initiative, dubbed “Pencils Down,” aims to return some “life” to the work-life balance of bankers.
It’s something that banks across Wall Street are doing, as the industry tries to retain and recruit young employees.
Some banks fix the number of days off employees must take each month, while others limit the hours that young staffers can work.
The efforts aim to strike at the heart of one of the most difficult issues on Wall Street: Bankers who work too many hours, either as a result of pressure from above or their own ambition.
(To get the must-read guide to the key issues at every major Wall Street bank, click here.)
At JPMorgan, the hope is that the new rule will lead to a “structural” change in the bank’s work culture, the bank’s head of human resources, John Donnelly, told Business Insider. The investment-banking division will work closely with human resources to monitor weekend work and enforce the guidelines.
“Under specific situations and emergencies, we all understand that sometimes you have to be in on weekends,” Donnelly said. “But making it a routine and a regular, expected thing is really just not necessary.”
On an internal call with bankers on Thursday, JPMorgan’s global banking head, Carlos Hernandez, said that employees would not be expected to work on weekends unless they’re on a live deal — that is, one that’s going to be announced the following Monday.
There are challenges to enacting these changes, however.
The guidelines aren’t always very rigid, and that’s where they fall into trouble.
Usually, if there’s a way to keep bankers at their desks, bosses will find it. Banking is a client-serving business, so even if there isn’t an imminent deal under way, there’s always work to do for a client, or a potential client.
And as one former analyst at another bank told Business Insider, there’s a difference between not being expected to work certain days or hours and not being allowed to. He said only the latter would really be enforceable.
Guidelines, rather than rules, are susceptible to manipulation, and there’s little the human-resources team or anyone else can do when bosses ask for work.
For example, this analyst said he once worked 109.5 hours in a single week. (That’s 16 hours each day.) He did get a call from human resources, but it was just to say, “I just wanted to check in and see if you’re ok.”
The HR rep couldn’t do anything else to remedy the situation.
JPMorgan is not the first bank to make guidelines aimed at improving work-life balance, especially for junior bankers.
At Bank of America, first- and second-year analysts are expected to take at least four days off per month. At Citi, analysts and associates are expected to be out of the office from 10 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Sunday, every weekend. And JPMorgan itself already offers employees one optional “protected” weekend per month.
These types of policies tend to be more carefully enforced with interns than with full-time staff.
But a common complaint among interns is that not being allowed to be in the office on the weekend means having to work even longer hours during the week.
One former Goldman Sachs intern told us that if he could do it over, he would buy a personal computer to work on from home in the evenings and on weekends so that he could keep up.
The former analyst we spoke to described the way his bosses got around his bank’s protected weekend rules.
“If we had to work on Saturday, the point person on the project was supposed to send an email to the [human resources] officer saying ‘I need this person — here’s why I need them,'” he said.
Human resources would aggregate all the requests and send them to the group head for approval.
Here’s where it breaks down: The group head would tell the VP “I need this work done,” so the VP would tell the analyst to do the work, and then HR would seek approval for the analyst to work the weekend … from the very group head who asked for the work in the first place.
“So of course every single Friday we get the email, you know, ‘I approve all work for me,'” the former analyst said.
JPMorgan’s new weekend policy is structured a little differently. The firm said it’s coming from the top ranks of the investment bank — that is, from Hernandez himself, who will ultimately be in charge of enforcement.
The firm will track banker hours weekly in a report that Hernandez reviews, and anyone works too many hours will get a call from him to find out why and what can be done to fix the problem.
“What the investment bank is trying to do is very specifically tell the seniors, not just the juniors, the type of activity that can be done on the weekends,” said JPMorgan’s HR head Donnelly.
“I think by really making it something top down and having the seniors also lead by example, it will work — because it’s a structural change in how we’re approaching things.”
JPMorgan also announced an expansion to its accelerated-promotions program for excellent performers, as well as a new mentorship program to help junior bankers get more face time with senior bankers, and several new technological developments to increase efficiency within the investment bank.
Goldman Sachs announced similar initiatives in November.