There isn’t a lot of sympathy out there for the junior bankers complaining of 100-hour weeks, inhuman working conditions and bullying bosses. Derivations of “suck it up, buttercup, this is what you signed up for” are what you’ll commonly find in the comments beneath the news reports when the issue comes to a head, as it has most recently courtesy of Xavier Rolet.
Rolet was a top banker before he took on the job of running the London Stock Exchange, which he did with great success. Fondly reminiscing about his Stakhanovite-style 130-hour weeks while he was on his way up – in a sort of “when I were a lad” way – he has advised banks to hire “poor hungry kids” who put themselves through college, rather than “entitled graduates”.
His LinkedIn post was somewhat charmless from a man of immense personal charm (I’ve had lunch with him and he’s very good value), married to a similar level of ability. He then told the Mail on Sunday: “It’s a free world. If you don’t love what you’re doing or think the hours don’t suit your lifestyle, by all means do something else.”
But his line directed at junior bankers that I want to focus on is this: “How many single working mothers trying to put several kids through school do you think work less than 130 hours a week?”
It’s probably true that there are single mothers doing those hours; single mothers who will never reach the sort of earnings bracket junior bankers attain in their first year on the job. It’s disappointing that people like Rolet and his peers use them as a throwaway line to hit their juniors with, rather than recognising that this is a huge societal problem – much less considering what could be done to improve the situation.
And Rolet, born in Algeria to a military family, knows what hardship looks like. Part of his childhood was spent in one of those French sink estates, the backdrop of which he describe as “concrete, concrete, concrete”.
The problem with the system he succeeded in is that it traps the majority of people living in those places. It’s rigged against them. It’s rigged against most people who live in council estates (something I also experienced while growing up with a single parent). Stories of escapes, maybe like Rolet’s, are inspiring and often told precisely because they are rare. Sometimes Hollywood makes movies out of them. In another world he’d be a member of the X-men.
The hard reality, however, is that it is extremely difficult to move from one of those estates into the sort of job that’ll fund a modest but pleasant house, car, overseas holiday once a year, and the odd movie ticket.
There are a few employers that have started casting their nets a little wider than they used to (the big accountants would be one example) but there aren’t many of them. Work hard and you’ll get on? People say that, but it’s trite – and I’m afraid isn’t always true.
Back to those unhappy junior bankers and the lack of sympathy they engender when they’re pushed into 130-hour weeks. It should be stated right now that no one should ever be asked to endure the inhuman treatment some, perhaps most, of them are asked to put up with at work – quite apart from how counter-productive it is.
And it doesn’t matter how much the job pays. Abuse is always wrong wherever it occurs. But perhaps, while they’re in the midst of one of those work-free Saturdays the banks claim they’re mandating in response to the criticism they’ve been getting, those junior bankers might care to consider how what they’re a part of crushes a lot of other people without any prospect of a reward at the end of it.
The banks that treat them like disposable cogs are complicit in the creation of a system that forces some single mothers into taking two or three service jobs they can’t escape simply by changing tack and moving into private equity, or testing the waters in big tech.
They lobby for lower corporate taxes paid for by cutting public services that might help young single mothers with, say, more affordable day-care. Their top bosses advocate for lower personal taxation, and often personally funnel money to politicians who then try to justify why their countries can’t afford to put a meagre £20 a week extra into the pockets of people on universal credit so their kids don’t go hungry. Or who support freezing the pay of teachers, just the sort of people you need to help future Xavier Rolets to achieve their potential.
Junior bankers should be treated fairly. But so should everyone else, and fairness is getting harder to find. They should remember that as they climb the greasy poll in a bid to reach the dizzying riches available at the top attained by people like Rolet.
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