Wall Street culture may be more known for its punishing work hours than paid time off. But Goldman Sachs has said it will not only give its staff more leave, it’s insisting staff take enough leave that they come back to work—hopefully—refreshed.
Goldman instated its new holiday policies in April, according to an internal memo seen by Quartz. It mandated unlimited vacation for senior staff, defined as all partners and managing directors globally, effective this month. And starting next year, all staff, including senior executives, will be required to take at least 15 days of holiday annually, including at least one week of consecutive days off.
The changes point to problems with the way US firms in particular have handled burnout and vacation time in recent years. Some companies offered unlimited paid time off, trusting employees not to take too much. But the reality was that many workers, feeling the pressure to self-regulate, took fewer vacation days than when time off was capped. The US has less paid time off than most rich countries, according to a World Economic Forum analysis, and a work culture in which fewer people take it.
Why mandate a full week off?
In a culture that often frowns upon fully disconnecting from work, longer holidays are less common than single days taken here and there throughout the year. Goldman’s mandated week off requires that employees take a break for their own good—though it could also save the company on sick leave linked to burnout. The leave is also a competitive benefit in a tight job market, particularly at a bank that has been accused of requiring bankers to work 100-hour weeks. Goldman Sachs declined to comment on the reasons behind its policy change.
Penelope Jones, a London-based career coach and founder of consultancy My So-Called Career, says if the bank really wants its staff to rest, it might need to look at a bigger cultural change. Quality of time off is more important than its exact duration, she said.
“A mandated week off sandwiched between extended periods of 80-100 hour weeks may have questionable value—particularly if you are unable to fully disconnect while you are away,” Jones said, pointing out that Goldman Sachs hadn’t specified that employees mustn’t work while on holiday.
A full week off of consecutive, uninterrupted days could theoretically give more time to “shift gears” out of work mode than shorter blocks of time, Jones said—especially since it’s not always possible to instantly relax:
“It’s not at all unusual to get sick on the first couple of days of your holiday as the stress hormones that have been keeping you going no longer flood your system,” which can affect things like sleep, Jones said. “Often people take a day or so for the memory of their inbox or the project they are working on to recede,” especially if their travel has also been stressful, she added.
Will Goldman’s tweaked vacation policies help employees stay loyal and energized? Sarah Todd, my colleague at Quartz, argues that even a week (or two) is not enough, and a better route is to make your day-to-day more sustainable with regular, ample self-care.
Jones, the career coach adds: “Addressing working hours, workplace culture, unrealistic expectations around connection and productivity and flexible/remote working” would do more for staff well-being, and possibly retention, than mandating holiday.”