Barclays is going to dock pay for its most disliked senior bankers

It pays to be friendly.
It pays to be friendly.
Image: Reuters/Olivia Harris
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Banks have been guardedly praised for taking steps to rein in their notoriously awful work environment for young employees, insisting on the occasional weekend off and questioning managers that overwork underlings. Barclays is going a step further and will now start cutting the pay of senior bankers who are identified by their underlings as being rotten to deal with, according to The Wall Street Journal (paywall).

It’s part of the bank’s recently introduced (and anonymous) “Team Working Practice Survey.” Senior employees rated highly by junior bankers will be rewarded, while the poorly rated will face repercussions when pay decisions get made.

Barclays has a particular onus to reform its culture. But other firms (paywall) in the financial services sector have instituted no-jerks policies—at least on paper—and a recent letter (paywall) from Jefferies Group’s leaders offering “back to school advice” to senior bankers at the company gives a sense of why such a policy might be in order for an even bigger segment of the industry. The letter gives plenty of seemingly obvious advice, that employees should thank others for their work, mentor somebody, and make the barest effort to get to know the people who work for them. One section stands out:

If you don’t respect the need for some type of normal life balance in the lives of our associates, analysts and support team, shame on you. Now we all know there are periods of time or circumstances that call for time and effort beyond the normal call of duty, but we are not a fraternity or sorority that hazes or takes advantage of people because of the way it was when we were cadets. Waiting until the last minute to hand out work, creating unnecessary projects or deadlines, or just being insensitive makes you a jerk. We do not have or want jerks at Jefferies.

The letter’s laudable for at least articulating a desire for a more functional culture. But that this advice needs to be given at all is pretty disturbing. (Banks looking to stem the flow of talent to Silicon Valley might consider this instead of focusing solely on the size of their junior bankers’ paychecks.)

The new policy at Barclays potentially raises the stakes by tying the treatment of junior employees to senior bankers’ pay. But it will only be effective if the consequences amount to more than just a slap on the wrist.