When these sorts of companies enact work-life policies, why don’t they seem to stick?
Look at the reward structure. You have an OK base salary, but then the bonus is allocated based on how you’re stacking up at the end of the year against your peers. It’s like a tournament. It’s like a race. And all you know is that the people next to you, against whom you will be measured, are just as smart as you. They work just as hard. And so the only lever you have is try to outwork them. These reward structures perpetuate this work ethic.
When an organization says “we value work-life balance, we want our people to not work on weekends, we want blah blah blah” — there is still this competitive structure where people have an incentive to work all they can because others are doing the same thing, and only winners get rewarded.
Churning through talent may work for a company. But you found that many employees choose these grueling schedules, even when they come at great personal cost. One associate told you: “I work hard because I want to.”
The people who get hired at banks have been through performance competitions all their lives. When I talk to students at the beginning of their undergraduate career and ask them, “what do you want to be?” very few want to go into banking.
So what happens? When these firms descend onto campus, people start competing because that’s what they have been conditioned to do throughout their lives. They chase after what everyone else chases after, regardless of whether they actually care about the work. Regardless of whether there are consequences or not, these people want to win.
This is maybe the final part that locks people into these intense work schedules. It is the idea that there is a cadre of individuals who are the best and brightest, and if you don’t keep up the pace you’ll end up at some kind of second-tier firm — part of an undefinable “rest.”
What’s so bad about that?
The people in the best and the brightest group, they have opportunities, they earn a lot, they work with other interesting people, they work on global deals. The rest push paper with uninteresting colleagues and over time, you’ll become like them. That’s what people sincerely believe. They believe that if you don’t work for an elite organization, you fall into an abyss of personal social status descent.