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Analysis

The Goldman Sachs drama: Why HR needs to invest in employee listening tech

Are your employees OK?

Yessi Bello-Perez

Technologist

Unleash Your Culture Are your employees suffering from burnout? Why HR tech can help you get to grips with employee challenges.

  • HR tech teams need to invest and deploy technology to protect employees.
  • The Goldman Sachs ‘drama’ is a clear example of why employee listening is important.
  • Tech tools and data will empower HR teams to make proactive decisions.

Just weeks after its CEO said working from home was an “aberration,” Goldman Sachs is making headlines again — albeit for the wrong reasons.

A group of first-year investment banking analysts at the giant reportedly presented management with a slide deck describing unpleasant working conditions.

The 13 analysts reported average work weeks of 95 hours, lack of sleep, and some said they had been “victims of workplace abuse.”

“I can’t sleep any more because my anxiety levels are through the roof,” said one of the analysts.


The slide deck — which was formatted as if it were an official Goldman Sachs presentation — began to gain momentum on social media on Wednesday, and became available in full on Twitter by Thursday.

Responding to the claims, Goldman Sachs said in a statement: “We recognize that our people are very busy, because business is strong and volumes are at historic levels.

“A year into Covid, people are understandably quite stretched, and that’s why we are listening to their concerns and taking multiple steps to address them,” added the banking giant.

COVID’s impact on company culture

The pandemic has had a profound effect on workplace culture with many HR teams tasked with ensuring employees felt a sense of purpose and belonging while working from home.

And while some companies have successfully bridged the gap between office and home working culture by embracing the opportunity for greater transparency, communication, and strategic employee listening, others have clearly failed.

Recent research by Breathe, an HR software provider, found that almost a third (27%) of SME employees quit their job due to workplace culture — representing a 6% increase from last year.

In fact, Breathe’s ‘The Culture Economy 2021’ report revealed poor company culture was costing the UK economy a staggering £20.2 billion per year.

Jonathan Richards, CEO and founder of Breathe commented on the findings: “The effects of lockdowns and extended isolation will be felt for a long time, so it’s never been more important for businesses to invest in building a culture that can survive the separation and offer support where it is sorely needed.

“Maintaining high productivity levels can only be possible if your people are looked after properly, otherwise this won’t be a sustainable outcome. Staff retention and churn issues despite the shrinking economy is surprising but proves people won’t stand for mistreatment in any scenario and will leave a job that doesn’t support them.

“We urgently need to see cultural changes happen to remedy this. Much more needs to be done in keeping people safe, mentally and physically, if at least from a work perspective,” he concluded.

So, how can HR tech help?

The pandemic has shone the light on mental wellbeing and the need for employers to make it a priority in 2021 and beyond, organizations are under increased pressure to suitable employee listening tools.

“Tech can help HR teams build the right foundations for the behaviors they want to see but it’s not a get out of jail free card. Human leaders have to do the hard work,” said Ben Branson-Gateley, CEO and co-founder at CharlieHR, an HR software provider.

By investing in and deploying the right technology, HR tech teams can ensure they involve their employees in the entire decision-making process. But, if done wrong, friction with the products and a bad experience can increase frustration across the entire workforce.

Gethin Nadin, a psychologist and HR author, told UNLEASH: “As consumers, we see on a daily basis how friction within tech can negatively impact our view of a brand and our experience with them. It’s the same with the employee experience.

“Multiple systems that aren’t integrated, clunky tech, slow loading platforms and no mobile journey all build up incrementally throughout our day and affect our mood and productivity. I genuinely believe this negatively contributes to workplace cultures.”

Melissa Sabella, founder and CEO at The Honeycomb Works, which helps organizations become more innovative and inclusive, spoke to UNLEASH.

“One of the things we’ve been seeing in many of the organizations we work with is an awareness by leadership that wellbeing needs to be prioritized. But they’re not willing to lighten the workload or adjust the goals to make this happen,” she said.

Often, Sabella added, managers at the lower level don’t have the authority to say or can’t risk saying ‘we are going to miss our targets becomes the team needs to rest.’

“HR tech has become more agile and responsive in identifying problems — engagement and wellbeing checks are much more frequent, as opposed to once a year as in the past,” Sabella noted, adding:

“But even when HR becomes aware of the problem, they may not know how to fix it. There’s a gap in terms of detailed data on which specific populations are being hit harder, which approaches are causing the problem and what the solution is.”

As is the case with many of HR’s responsibilities, data, or the lack thereof, seems to be a big part of the problem.

“Many managers are juggling multiple roles and don’t have the time or training to analyze the situation properly on their own. HR needs to use technology to figure out the specific behaviors companies need to change and help managers become more self-aware about them. This isn’t about surveillance — all data should be anonymized and aggregated — so employees will be honest and see it as a way to make work better for everyone,” Sabella concluded.

Technology has transform how organizations think about culture but in order for it to work, HR tech teams need to invest and deploy the right products.

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