I’m not growing up, I’m just burning out
Written by David Gaffney
27 March 2021
Much has been written this week about the junior Goldman Sachs employees who spoke up and spoke out about the unreasonable demands and expectations placed upon them by bosses at the firm.
Without wishing to out myself as a major slacker, 95-hour working weeks have been few and far between during my career to date.
There were probably a handful when I was a self-employed event organiser. In the days before and after a big event, every waking hour was a working one too.
There may have been a few more when I worked in the banking sector and we were occasionally stuck between a rock and the hard deadline of a financial results announcement or (another) reputational crisis.
Both of those scenarios had their saving graces, though. In each case, I was surrounded by a brilliant group of friends and colleagues, most of whom were working just as hard as me and many of them harder.
Moreover, we were all in it together. I don’t just mean the situation, but the physical location. As convenient a tool as video conferencing is, it is a woefully ineffective means of engendering the sense of camaraderie that makes these tests of endurance bearable and, occasionally, even enjoyable. It’s little wonder that some of those who are learning their trade in relative isolation, under considerable pressure, have reached their limit.
Many of this week’s articles relate to that broad theme and this Thursday we are also pleased to welcome Anne Helen Petersen as our guest (alas, virtually) to discuss her timely book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.
Join us for that if you can by registering here. In the meantime, have a restful weekend.
1. We’ve got ambition burnout in our twenties
Study hard, get a ‘cool’ job, climb the ladder: the well-trodden career trajectory path laid out by society has been turned on its head during the pandemic.
If wearing nice suits and having a fancy office is now a thing of the past, the competitive nature and gruelling hours associated with a City job are suddenly less appealing. Young people are increasingly prioritising work-life balance and mental wellbeing over the pursuit of a high-flying career.
Read about their experiences in The Telegraph.
2. When constitutions took over the world
Months after the US constitution appeared stretched to breaking point, Jill Lepore talks to constitutional historian, Linda Colley. Colley looks at the spate of constitutions that followed the Enlightenment and argues that just as war makes states, war makes constitutions. Colley turns constitutional orthodoxies on their head, showing how many have been impermanent and how many have both enshrined and reduced rights.
Read in The New Yorker.
3. Businesses mustn’t forget about their people
This by Helen Thomas shines a light on something that many employers leave out of their ESG and sustainability bumf: their people. She’s not talking about the usual “our people are our greatest asset” stuff, but rather the basics, the gritty day-to-day. How are they employed? How are they paid? How often do they leave? With investors increasingly demanding transparency around environmental and social impact, companies may soon be forced to unveil the dusty skeletons hiding in their HR closets, and expose how their “greatest assets” are really treated.
Read in FT.
4. Investment bankers react to Goldman Sachs’ 100-hour working week
The reason that the Goldman Sachs story caught on in the way it did this week owes to the fact that burnout – especially after the year we’ve all had – is seemingly universal. And yet, on the basis of these collected reactions, it is also contested. What stresses are we willing to stomach to get on in our careers? Hasn’t it always been so? Does that make it right?
Read in The New York Times.
5. Mental health and the pandemic
For a raw personal account of the toll that burnout can take on human life, the Financial Times has put together a collection of testimonies of those working closest to the health consequences of the pandemic, in our hospitals and across our healthcare system.
Read in FT.
6. Love songs
Late one evening in 1941, freelance broadcaster Roy Plomley was at his home in his pyjamas when the idea for Desert Island Discs occurred to him. Aired for the first time the following year, its success endures today. The format itself is key to its longevity, but the real magic for listeners comes at the point where a remarkable interviewee is found to share our own impeccable musical tastes. The author Maggie O’Farrell represented that winning combination (for me, at least) yesterday, with her description of a fascinating life punctuated by music from The Cure, The Pogues, Beirut, and Radiohead, among others.
Listen again on BBC iPlayer.
7. The prince of PR
We tend not to dispense advice in these missives, but I’ll break with tradition today to offer this hint, free of charge: journalists have an aversion to tedious quotes that begin with the words “We’re delighted to announce…”. However, in the course of trying to avoid such cliched platitudes while drafting quotes for news releases, press officers occasionally commit another cardinal corporate comms sin. I’m delighted to direct you towards the article below for further explanation.
Read in Unherd.
And finally… The battle for the pub at the end of the world
Judging by my twitter feed, the post-lockdown experience many people are anticipating most keenly is the first moment that beverage meets lips in their favourite pub. For the 100-strong community of Inverie, on the Knoydart peninsula in Scotland’s north west highlands, the promise of a pint in their local boozer, The Old Forge, is an especially emotive subject.
Read in FT.