Investment banks

Goldman Sachs to millennials: We're not that terrible

November 1, 2013: 12:58 PM ET

The investment bank now has some stiff competition for top young talent and is trying to soften its reputation as a workaholics' paradise. This is just window dressing.

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FORTUNE -- On Wednesday, Goldman Sachs (GS) acknowledged that it had suggested that its junior bankers not work on the weekend.

"The goal is for our analysts to want to be here for a career," David Solomon, co-head of Goldman's Investment Banking Division, said in a statement provided by the bank.

That's the Goldman version of warm and fuzzy, and it's a nice attempt to drum up devotion within its lower ranks and appeal to millennials, but a company notorious for efficiency should know it won't work.

There's no doubt Goldman can use more loyalty. With its reputation still bruised from the beating it took during the financial crisis, Wall Street is losing talent to tech companies, many of which offer starting salaries on par with those offered by investment banks. Investment bankers in the New York metro area with one to three years experience make an average of $86,440, according to Glassdoor.com. Software engineers with the same amount of experience working in the same region make $82,700 on average. In May, 15% of 2013 Harvard graduates told The Crimson student newspaper that they were going into finance, which nearly doubled the 2012 figure but still fell way short of the 47% of grads who said they would enter the industry in 2007.

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Tech firms have more than money to offer prospective employees: their flexible hours, a t-shirt-and-jeans culture, and a seemingly innovative atmosphere that appeals more to recent college grads than the stereotypically staid, suit-and-tie world of Wall Street.

Goldman's suggestion of weekends off seems like an attempt to keep up with the times, but abiding by the work schedule of a normal human doesn't quite have the same hip factor as the perks -- think outdoor fitness classes, gourmet food, and subsidized local seafood -- that Google (GOOG) offers its employees during the week.

Investment banking is a client-based industry, where employers don't set the hours as much as they scurry to meet clients' demands, no matter the time of day or day of the week. Goldman can suggest that junior bankers unchain themselves from their desks on Saturday and Sunday, but that won't keep clients from sending an urgent request on Friday night.

And Goldman's client services haven't exactly been a bright spot for the bank since the recession, with allegations that they duped clients for their own profit and the attention-grabbing call-out by former Goldman banker Greg Smith, who wrote in his New York Times OpEd that "if you were from Mars and sat in on one of these [Goldman] meetings, you would believe that a client's success or progress was not part of the thought process at all."

The last message Goldman ought to send to its clients right now is that it won't be available to respond to their every beck and call.

Despite the competition from Silicon Valley, Goldman received 17,000 applications for the 332 open spots in its 2014 analyst program -- up 14% from 2013. Applicants to the program -- soon-to-be college grads from elite colleges -- know exactly what they're in for: the opportunity to make a lot of money at the expense of long, unpredictable hours.

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Recommending that young bankers limit their workweek to five days is nice, but the prospect of capturing a larger slice of the bonus pool has a bit more appeal. It's safe to say that employees at one of the best-paying companies who are driven by money enough to alter their lunch habits just to save a few bucks certainly consider the correlation between their hours on the job and their salaries.

Thomas DeLong, a management and organizational behavior professor at Harvard Business School puts it this way: "In any institution with driven individuals, when you've set up incentives and structures to encourage a particular behavior, to think that telling people that they shouldn't work on weekends will change anything is naïve."

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