Never wanted to work at big four and the likes.
Never been attracted nor impressed by pace and style of work those firms stand for.
Never envied friends who had pursued their careers there, despite their higher earnings.
But whenever I heard stories of people knocking off at midnight or spending weekends in the office or in front of their company laptops, I wondered what had prompted them to make such career choices and why (most of them) had not given up on them. There are three reasons that come to my mind when you ask me to put across why somebody bends over backwards and sacrifices their best years to a wicked corporation…
Firstly, money. Full stop.
Secondly, it is the stepping stone. You sacrifice some three years which begin around the time you graduate and at the age of, say, 26 or 27, you are a valuable employee who can pick and choose from decent, rather nine-to-five jobs with a monthly basic five-digit pre-tax salary.
Thirdly, whatever turns you on. I see there are people who are in their element when overloaded with work, struggling to meet deadlines, racing for bonuses with fellow workmates and genuinely draw pleasure from toiling away.
In Polish banking, work style does not resemble neither the big four torment, nor the investment banking style characteristic for the City or Wall Street. An ordinary folk, if they are to imagine a bank employee, they will most probably see someone sitting in a bank branch and foisting cash loans or mortgages or deposits or other lousy “products” on benighted clients. Those people, working in retail branches, making up majority of banking sector employees in Poland are poorly paid, fall victims to mobbing and are forced to meet exorbitant sales targets. No wonder staff turnover in branches is high.
Besides, there is a world in between the City and the branches. These are head office of banks registered in Poland. Work there does not resemble what goes on in the City, yet salaries also are far lower. Bankers in Poland generally do not work 70 hours per week, but their bonuses will not buy them flats in Warsaw. Albeit, it has to be noted, in legendary late 1990s and before 2005, when property prices were reasonable and banking sector in Poland had its best years in terms of profits, decent annual bonuses of senior specialists or managers were high enough to buy a small flat. Years from 2006 to 2008 were the three last years when sky-high bonuses were witnessed. Unfortunately, since property prices skyrocketed, purchasing power of bonuses drastically dwindled. Then Lehman Brothers went into the wall and banks across the world, in order to shield their profitability, began to rip off clients even more and cut costs internally, which involved nothing else but cutbacks.
Cost restructuring and employment restructuring have been on-going processes for seven years now and though more work needs to be done to keep banks expanding, fewer people do this and the trend cannot be attributed to technological progress, since we are here talking about highly-qualified staff whose work might not be replaced by computers.
The New Factory is also in the state of flux. There have been some redeployments here and there inside the organisation, as a result of which I got transferred to another team, with exactly the same duties and along with another person I had to take over duties of someone who now is attempting to pursue career outside the New Factory. Needless to say, the transfer (effective as of 1 November 2015) was communicated to me as appreciation of my excellent work and proof of trust senior managers put in me.
The actual outcome is that I spend around ten hours a day at work, my pace of work is frenetic enough to pose excessive risk of mistakes and not allowing me to adhere to principles of diligence. Plus I was falling behind with work, so in order to catch up and meet all deadline, I ended up with the company notebook at home over the weekends. In spent most of the weekend two weeks ago working and nearly the whole Saturday a week ago. Most stuff I had to deal with got finalized this week, but I had lots of small overdue issues to carry through, so I got immediately fixed up with VPN, allowing me to have access to company mailbox and network resources everywhere where I have access to the Internet. The new handcuffs are of course another accolade…
The only question is how long can one carry on like this. Out of 22 days which have passed in November, I had three when I was completely off work. Forgetting about work and turning off one’s mind in such circumstances is difficult. To boot, the excessive involvement in workplace goings-on appears compulsive. Over five years spent in banking I have seen several workaholics, have always looked at them with disdain, yet today I see myself growing akin to them, what fills me with slight dread.
How long then? I will not bother to answer, but I will dare to ask another question – what is the price to pay?
Firstly, it is the stress. I tend to put a bold face and always prove to deliver what I am expected. The outside effect is (as I am told) impressive, but the inside cost is felt by me only. Coping with time pressure and massive amount of information to process cause brain to work on high revolutions, something that is sustainable only for a short period. Carrying on like this leads to side effects such as chronic fatigue or problems with concentration.
Secondly, it is less time for private issues. On Thursdays I have set a general rule to knock off at 5 p.m. to make it to the dance class. I gave up on the last one, but it was only because the new boss had invited my team to an eatery and turning down the proposal would have been impolite. Besides, as some friends would convince me, the worse you have it at work, the more you feel tempted to seek entertainment outside it, provided you are not totally drained of energy. Plus I am glad this s**t has fallen on me now, not a year ago. I was in the luck not to be overloaded with work while on the home straight to earn the Charter.