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Goldman Sachs' 95-hour week is a lesson for accountancy firms

How can anyone work for 95 hours a week? The Imprudent Accountant is happy that he isn't employed by Goldman Sachs. Can anyone work efficiently for more than 48 hours a week?

29th Mar 2021
Partner An unnamed firm
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Goldman Sachs HQ in New York
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I was shocked to learn that junior employees at Goldman Sachs routinely work 95-hour weeks.

Sometimes, unlikely numbers can flow past without achieving their true impact. To make them more digestible, give or take a little rounding, 95 hours a week translates into

  • 19 hours a day for a five-day week.
  • 13.5 hours a day for a seven-day week.

I have no idea about how one defines slavery but spending 80% of your waiting time at your computer screen during what has come to be known as the working week sounds pretty bad. Perhaps even more depressing is the prospect of occupying literally the majority of your life excluding any holidays, which are probably not really holidays anyway, ploughing away at the metaphorical coalface.

Modern slavery?

Looked at in this way, Goldman Sachs’ employees are suffering an existence that is not that different from slavery, although the nature of the work is at least less back-breaking.

Many readers will recall the fuss when legislation was introduced to restrict standard working hours to 48 in any week.

If employers wanted to bypass this limit, they were obliged to get active buy in from each individual worker, most of whom could be bullied into signing the requisite paperwork.

I may not have been the only person whose reaction was to heave a great sigh of relief on the basis that my working week has only ever exceeded 48 hours on rare occasions, typically when a client had a major transaction was reaching crisis point.

To come back to the translation, as near as makes no difference, 95 hours a week is double the government-supported limit, presumably designed to maintain sanity and avoid the need to waste vast amounts of money on care services or the NHS, as victims (there is no other word) have mental or physical breakdowns and seek help.

Look after your workforce

The world of accountancy is generally more benign than banking or the law. Even so, we need to take care of our workforce.

Everyone understands that sometimes it is necessary to work over and above standard contractual hours but there is no reason why this should become standard practice.

I never cease to be surprised by stories of this kind, since it has always been clear that if I work beyond a sensible number of hours in any week, my efficiency drops off the edge of a cliff.

Suddenly, basic principles that I learned as a trainee disappear out of the window and I cease to trust the quality of anything that I have done in the wee small hours.

This becomes self-fulfilling, since I then have to re-work the exercises that were carried out while half asleep, which quite probably means doing excessive hours the following day.

I apply the same values when colleagues are overdoing things and automatically assume that mistakes will creep into their work.

Return of a macho culture?

While part of the problem here could be connected to an organisation with too few employees for the work, it is just as likely to be the result of a macho culture in which anyone trying to slope off early (10pm?) is regarded as a lightweight with limited career prospects.

The position may have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which seems counter-intuitive, since you would have thought that employees who were previously being imprisoned in an office could take things a little easier while at home.

If the press is right, then the situation could get worse in future since telesales companies are apparently considering introducing new software that will allow them to spy on employees via their web cams.

Should that prove successful, you can just see the bigwigs at Goldman Sachs rubbing their hands together with glee and investing in the technology, perhaps accompanied by some kind of clever gizmo that allows them to play loud noises whenever they spot a callow genius falling asleep after only the 94th working hour.

To me, this is barbaric and needs to stop. I will be interesting to discover whether any readers have experience of accountancy practices where workers routinely exceed 50 hours a week, let alone almost double that.

Replies (4)

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By Duggimon
30th Mar 2021 10:14

I had a different reaction to the story, I just don't believe anyone works for 95 hours a week. They might spend 95 hours in the office but there is zero possibility they actually work for those 95 hours and I'm pretty sure every study ever done on human effectiveness and ability over sustained periods of time will back me up on this.

Through January this year I did six days a week at 13 hours a day of actual work and it nearly killed me, and that was for just two weeks, followed by a week off. Trying to imagine fitting in another 17 hours somewhere is mind boggling and I just don't believe anyone, let alone an entire group of people, actually do it regularly for a sustained period of time.

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By Arcadia
30th Mar 2021 10:42

The problem seems to be the opt out. Why was it ever allowed? If there was a reason (lumpy work levels?) it doesn't apply to the likes of Goldman Sachs or large accountancy firms, who have the resources to even out the lumps. Small firms have the January crisis, but this is completely self inflicted. The opt out needs to go.

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By tonyaustin
30th Mar 2021 13:30

How much do Goldman Sachs pay those who work a 95 hour week?

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By AndyC555
06th Apr 2021 15:33

"I have no idea about how one defines slavery..."

I doubt the definition includes "being paid shedloads of money".

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