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Work

Succeed by Slacking: How to Get Promoted

I didn’t receive much guidance growing up. I fumbled my way through school not really knowing where I was headed. The only career advice I received was “be a doctor or lawyer”. I became neither.

I didn’t know much. But I did *know* (or so I thought) that working hard would pay off.

I busted my tail through college and university, and later two masters degrees while working full time. School teaches you that hard work is the key to success. It’s a reward system that I became addicted to and could manipulate to my advantage. Work hard, study hard and get my dopamine fix through my good grades.

I was a great student!

In school I was consistently near the top of my class and I figured I was on the right path to success. Unfortunately, school doesn’t really prepare you for the corporate world.

In the corporate world, hard work will only take you so far. In fact, it can be counterproductive at times. It is in the first phase of your career that hard work matters the most.

During the early stages of your career, you need to learn a lot and prove yourself. Nobody knows you so you must deliver a lot to succeed. This means taking on and learning as much as humanly possible. It means working long days until what once took you 3 hours to complete eventually takes 30 minutes.

Junior employees are ditch-digging foot soldiers. The only thing that matters is how well you can take orders and use the tools provided. Call this Phase I of your career.

Once you become a master of your tools (physical or intellectual), you start to add value. You generate your own processes, interpret and analyze information and communicate recommendations to senior staff. This is the point of your career where those who create value can progress quickly, often by jumping from company to company.

Call this Phase II of your career.

So now you’re a middle-manager in some corporate behemoth. This is where many careers fizzle out. Why? Not because people can’t handle their new positions. No, it’s because they keep applying the same strategies as they did in Phase I and II of their careers.

It is in this third phase that the marginal benefits of hard work start to decline. Sure, a hard worker will be valuable to the team. You will get a decent paycheque and occasional recognition. But working super-hard during this third phase of your career could counterintuitively limit your upward mobility.

When you’re working hard, your time is gone. You’re busy managing multiple projects at the same time with little remining time to think. And by the time you have a moment you’re too drained to be productive.

Doing a lot is not the same as doing the things that matter.

Often, time to ruminate is needed to prioritize the work that has the biggest impact. Executing on 3 high impact projects very well will get you noticed far more than doing 15 low impact activities moderately well. People are remembered for their pinnacle work, not for all the shit they shoveled for the firm.

Another reason to work less hard as you rise in the ranks is so you always have spare capacity. When the big boss has an urgent request, the person with spare capacity can more easily and quickly jump into action and save the day. Meanwhile, people bogged down by meaningless tasks miss those opportunities to shine in front of senior executives.

Perhaps most importantly, unfortunately for the introverts out there (e.g. me), managers who aren’t glued to their desks make connections and get noticed. I’m talking about facetime. Networking. Schmoozing.

Of course, meeting people for lunch or coffee requires time. But networking is critical to career progression so you better make the time. Namely, you better reallocate time from completing meaningless tasks to making meaningful connections with people in your company and industry.

Won’t people think you’re slacking?

Nope. You have to be pretty blatant about it to get noticed. So much work within a corporation is qualitatively measured, it’s almost impossible to keep track of individual capacity. In a corporate environment, determining whether someone is operating at 70% or 100% capacity is an impossible task. Usually, it’s not worth the time and effort to figure out to any degree of certainty. Moreover, if business leaders care about results (as opposed to busyness) the person operating with spare capacity will actually appear like they’re working harder than the rest.

Once you’re in that middle management phase of your career, my suggestion is to set your own agenda as much as possible. Without disregarding your boss’s requests, this means setting time aside for business and career priorities.

If X, Y and Z are critical to your company’s success, don’t waste too much time on A, B and C. Many people mistake activity for productivity. This is why bureaucrats love meetings. Meetings feel productive even though they accomplish nothing.

Many middle managers work like crazy without reward. If you prove you’re an indispensable shit-shoveler that’s who you’ll remain.

Categories
Work

Goldman Sachs and The 100 Hour Work Week

NEWSFLASH: Working at Goldman Sachs is hard.

This is according to a recent survey of Goldman Sachs junior analysts. I won’t go through the entire survey, but the following slide basically sums up the findings. Junior analysts work about 100 hours a week and don’t sleep. As you can guess, these working conditions have had a big impact on their social lives, health and well-being.

Are you surprised? I’m not.

This is Goldman Sachs. The premiere shop in one of the toughest industries, investment banking. Despite grueling working conditions, the company has fresh grads clamoring to work there. A two-year analyst stint at Goldman can set up a 22 year old grad for life. It’s a stamp of approval and proof someone has the stamina and intellect to do anything. This is why Goldman Sachs has no shortage of eager applicants.

What do analysts at Goldman Sachs make?

Junior analysts are paid well. According to data from Wall Street Oasis, Goldman pays its first-year investment-banking analysts anĀ average of $123,500 a year, including base salary and bonuses.

A 22 year old kid isn’t going to make that kind of money somewhere else.

Starting at $100k+, if one continues down the path they would easily net $500k annually within a few years.

All of this information is well documented.

If you join the army don’t be shocked when you’re asked to wear a uniform.

Any business student applying to the analyst program at Goldman Sachs (or any i-bank, for that matter) should know what they’re getting into. These aren’t drunks crimped at naval ports to become crewmen on ships. These Goldman analysts voluntarily chose to fill out an application form, interview and sign on the dotted line. They are also smart, connected and educated. They knew.

And guess what? If it sucks so badly, they can quit. This is a free society.

Despite the working conditions of every investment bank being common knowledge within b-school hallways, every once in a while the press gets ahold of news like this:

“XYZ investment bank analyst working 100hrs a week and doesn’t have time for a life.”

Shock-the-Monkey News Corp.

Well, this isn’t news. The world of investment banking (and many other professions) has always been extremely intense and demanding. 100 hour weeks are the norm – especially when you’re green.

I know I couldn’t handle it and would hate it. I don’t believe in sacrificing my life for money. I’d trade my time for passion, but producing the next corporate spin-off, while interesting, isn’t my idea of pleasure. I’d prefer to limit that kind of shit to 10 hours a day max. Others have a different life plan, and that’s OK.

That’s why I never worked in i-banking. It’s also why I never joined the navy.

Categories
Work

Work Emails During a Holiday?

I understand the lure. It’s the weekend or you’re on holiday and your work phone pings. Or perhaps you walk by it on a desk and get the urge to ‘catch up’.

We’ve all been classically conditioned to check our phones.

So you sneak away for 2 minutes to check in to see if there’s anything urgent. Next thing you know you’re elbows deep in work emails, you’re mind is in corporate mode and your stress levels are rising.

Today in Canada is ‘Family Day’. Presidents Day in the US. Yet, just 10 minutes ago I felt the pull to check my work phone.

*NEW* I just started a newsletter for investors and finance professionals called The Responsible Investor. This newsletter is a digest of key sustainable finance stories, ESG product launches and responsible investing jobs.

I caved.

In a flash, I saw dozens of unread messages. Suddenly the final moments of my long weekend turned from relaxing until the sun rises to dreaded anticipation for the shit-storm about to hit in the morning. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just the ordinary, regular, daily shit-storm that we call work.

Repulsed at what I had just done, I quickly put the phone back down and walked back to my family and comfort of my living room. I’ll deal with it all tomorrow. Of course, I now must pay the price for my curiosity with a cortisol spike pushing through my bloodstream.

Who the fuck is sending me emails when they should be spending time with their families or on leisure pursuits?

I spent no more than 30 seconds looking at my phone, but it was enough to see I received a dozen emails over the past 3 days – Saturday, Sunday and a holiday Monday.

Who the fuck is sending me emails when they should be spending time with their families or on leisure pursuits? I understand the drive to get ahead, but if productivity is really the siren’s call then why not learn a skill or read a book? Why attempt to ruin your colleagues’ Sunday with the Monday-to-Friday chaos?

Are these people bored? Do they have no interests outside of work? Or are they trying to cultivate the 24/7 workaholic image, which is celebrated in North American culture?

Worse, do they feel pressured by their peers to check their emails? After all, there’s nothing worse than being 2 days behind on a crisis.

Regardless of the reason, it’s unhealthy.

We already devote 5 out of 7 days to work, and much of the remaining two days is spent preparing for Monday. There’s already no such thing as a work-life balance. We don’t need to make it worse by answering emails on a Sunday.