OUTLOOK: Bullying culture in the City bears a striking resemblance to Dolphins locker room

  • @TheIndyBusiness

On the face of it big employers in the City are on a different planet to the Miami Dolphins American football teams. On the face of it.

The Dolphins hit the headlines on both sides of the Atlantic after the publication of a report exposing a toxic “locker room code” that led to offensive lineman Jonathan Martin walking out in distress.

This would appear far removed from what goes on the City, whose employees wear suits not gladiatorial body armour, ply their trade in air conditioned offices rather than fields surrounded by baying fans, and who are handed dense employee handbooks detailing acceptable conduct at the outset.

All the same, the principles enshrined in those handbooks and what occurs in practice frequently diverge sharply; the City has its own “locker room” codes that are often no less destructive than the one operated by those Dolphins.

These include never questioning the conduct of the rainmakers, especially if you are classified on the balance sheet as a “cost”, as people from compliance or risk are.

Staff need to “get on” with colleagues to get ahead. That means never rocking the boat, accepting the boss’s conduct as sacrosanct and their word as law. If someone should approach the HR department with concerns, it’s they who should expect to face questions.

The junior, or the intern, must not under any circumstances raise a whisper of complaint about anything. If that means pulling a succession of “all nighters” then so be it.

If that means getting the hairdryer treatment from the boss (see above) for putting a figure in the wrong column on the spreadsheet after one of those all nighers, so be it. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

One former banker told me that their industry essentially runs on “bullying and bullshit” and that this hasn’t changed despite all the scandals and subsequent promises of reform.

It says it all that a very senior banker was salivating in my presence at the prospect of getting his hands on “hungry young people” from Eastern Europe. People who presumably, in his mind, wouldn’t shirk at the prospect of hundreds of all nighters.

It isn’t just banking, either. Have a look at some of the reports of employment tribunals casting a light on the treatment of members of the accountancy, broking, or insurance industries.

Of course, it isn’t like that everywhere in the City, just as it isn’t every NFL team whose members treat the more sensitive and introverted personalities like Martin in the way certain Dolphins did. 

But there are plenty of places where something nasty lurks beneath an outwardly civilised veneer. As my ex-banker friend says, the industry is still running on a combination of...but you know the rest.