Goldman Sachs new half weekend rules: you can have Saturday off, folks

Office hours have little meaning in the age of the Blackberry

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The Independent Online

Are you enjoying your weekend? Better make the most of it – there’s not long left. Come 9am tomorrow it will all be over. It will be time, once again, to join the rat race, to put nose to the grindstone, boot up the computer, spend the day on Buzzfeed and other workplace clichés.

Or at least, it will be for those unfortunate millionaires who work at Goldman Sachs. The bank has sent a memo to its Wall Street executives in which it helpfully redefines the weekend. Everything has a bottom line, it seems, even time off. So the chief vampire squid have made some “rationalisations” and come up with a new concept. You could call it the microweekend, or the mini-minibreak or, if you’re old-fashioned, Saturday. 

From now on, employees will be forced to take a weekend which starts at 9pm on Friday and ends at 9am Sunday. It goes without saying that while no-one will be allowed into the office during those languid, good-for-nothing, near-endless 36 hours, they will be expected to keep an eye on their Blackberries throughout. And some junior bankers may have to work Saturdays, too. Still, 9pm til bedtime on a Friday – all theirs.

Oddly, this new demi-weekend is Goldman Sachs trying to be more laid-back. As a pose, it looks about as convincing as George Osborne in a hoodie but there is a serious imperative behind it. The macho-hours culture in some corporate workplaces has become literally deadly. In the summer, Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, died of a seizure after reportedly working through the night eight times in the space of a fortnight.    

So it is right that the bank is taking steps towards ensuring that employees take time off. Even if they are baby, highly corporate steps, which look abnormal to the rest of the average-salaried world. “Vacations will be tracked and reported on a quarterly basis”, drones the memo. “All analysts are expected to take time off before the end of the year in an effort to focus on work-life balance.” 

The fact is, it is not memos that ensure work-life balance, but people. Face-time is still held to be the most accurate indicator of hard work when it is often not. Conversely, office hours have little meaning in the age of the Blackberry. So it is every adult’s responsibility to take a break when they need to. Not doing so results in inefficiencies and illness. Two days off out of seven is not a weakness but a necessity.

The leisure sector is now cashing in on the eternal workers. There are holidays which market themselves as “digital detoxes”, requiring holidaymakers to check-in their phones at reception like addicts. The latest fad in America – so surely on its way here – is for silent restaurants where all electronic devices, and conversation, are banned at the table, allowing workers to refuel without distractions.

The inability to switch off, electronically and bodily, is our modern malaise. It is a sorry state of affairs. No-one ever went to their grave wishing they’d sent more emails.

And then the penny dropped…

It is fair to say that Daniel Craig is an actor who takes his job quite seriously. At the moment he is on Broadway, starring in Betrayal, Harold Pinter’s portrait of a failing marriage. His unfaithful on-stage wife is played by his off-stage wife, Rachel Weisz, and this week it was reported that the couple have taken to sleeping in separate bedrooms “to keep focused”.

“They feel they cannot go home and snuggle up together at night and then switch into character,” said a shadowy source. This all very committed and noble, if true. Although it is worrying if Craig takes all of his roles so seriously. Does he need to feel the reassuring steel of a Walther PPK in his pocket at all times when filming Bond?

Method acting is a bit daft. Laurence Olivier had it right. When Dustin Hoffman showed up on the set of Marathon Man having not slept for three days, in order to play a man who had not slept for three days, Olivier took one look at him and purred: “Why don’t you just try acting, dear boy?”

That said, Olivier had his methods too. David Suchet gave a revealing insight this week into getting Poirot’s mincing, precise little walk just comme il faut. Laurence Olivier “wanted to mince and famously he put a penny in the crack of his bottom and walked and wouldn’t let it drop,” Suchet told Radio Times. “So I did the same thing.” Poirot on a Sunday night will never be the same.


We’re not rude, we’re just from the North

I don’t think I’ve ever had a cup of tea at Temporary Measure in Keswick, but I know the Lakes and I know this café’s ilk. I’m picturing big brown teapots, doorstop servings of toast, slightly crumby tablecloths – in other words, an ideal place to sit down.

Not according to some patrons. The Cumbrian café has been targeted on TripAdvisor by disgruntled customers who reported that the proprietor was rude. “We all have off-days, so we went back the next day,” typed one. “But he was exactly the same.” This seems an odd thing to have done, given the hundreds of other cafes in the Lake District, but then they did say that the scones were “lovely”. Responding on TripAdvisor, the café’s co-owner explained that her partner was simply gloomy by nature. “Luckily we live in Britain, in particular The North, a place that still maintains a healthy respect for a good old fashioned surly disposition.” She added that the day before she had served two teapots without teabags and thrown a fork at a woman. So these customers had seen the place on a good day.

I am a Northerner so I find this funny. Being curmudgeonly is our thing; our dispositions are forged in drizzle. Those visiting from below Birmingham should bring a cagoule and thicker skin.

Besides, if the tourists found Cumbrians rude, they should try New York. I was there this week and, after a run-in with a surly waiter, I was delighted by one local’s guide to the city’s attitude. “It’s the only place in America,” she said, “where if someone tells you to ‘Have a nice day’, you say, ‘Don’t you tell me what to do.’” I felt right at home.