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Answers to long-hours culture in City finance lie in equality laws

Employment solicitor Mike Cain discusses the long-hours culture in the City banking sector.

Posted on 22 March 2021

The recent array of global coverage including on the BBC , the Evening Standard, CNN and elsewhere about the culture of 12-15 hour day, seven-day working weeks for staff at Goldmans is not limited to that bank.

Based on my extensive experience of speaking to employees in the city, it is pretty much endemic and is common in most related sectors.

What is important to understand is that the long hours culture is not just a simple numbers issue; there is a mental culture that underpins and sustains it.

There is need to not merely stay late, but to be seen to not want to leave the floor first; a corrosive and exploitable fear of missing out that compels analysts and associates across EC4, Mayfair and in the US and Europe to sacrifice everything including their health in case something breaks in their absence.

We’ve seen this outlook and set of expectations commemorated in the well known handful of Wall Street movies over the last three decades.

Whilst it is not surprising that it is staff who suffer the problem most in terms of sheer numbers, senior staff can also be victims.

The “long hours/always on” culture creates physical and mental ill health for anybody caught up for long enough in it, but it exacerbates pre-existing hidden disability.

This is an area we have become increasingly involved in for the small number of brave staff who have stood up to it in the context of their disability rights under the Equality Act.

There has been much fanfare in the financial media over the last year around the extent to which the city has latched on to the operational and commercial benefits of hiring neurodiverse recruits who bring creativity and alternative thinking into the strategic mix.

This is a new and empowering shift in emphasis in the equalities field. It has resulted in a positive reframing of individuals who hitherto were primarily viewed as “suffering” ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and spectrum related conditions, and it is to be welcomed.

Amongst this group are many very clever, able individuals who, despite disabling deficiencies in some areas of functioning, have a learning orientation and emphatically developed numerical or analytical insights that enable them to provide unique and original approaches to problem solving and strategy.

This neurodiversity agenda should be aided by the existence of protective rights under the Equality Act to have hurdles removed that cause a disadvantage by reason of a neurodiverse condition or diagnosis and to not suffer unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of it.

As a litigator and advisor to such employees in the city it is evident that financial institutions increasingly want to reap the rewards from harnessing the resources and insights of neurodiverse staff without accommodating their broader needs and rights.

Long hours is not the only problem. An irrational insistence on written reportage practices is often baffling to those who have tech-based achievable work rounds that alleviate the disadvantages they suffer in written work.

Avoidable urgency (despite the expectation of a dawn to midnight shift) is another commonly reported circumstance. Perhaps most the most widespread phenomenon is under staffing within a given sub division – arguably the single biggest catalyst of the long hours problem.

Getting to grips with the long hours culture, and the values and expectations that underpin it is likely to be a generational battle, but the tools needed to a take it forward are embedded within UK Equality Law and City employers are no more exempt from their obligations under it than employers in any other sector.

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Mike Cain

Mike Cain

Mike Cain is a an associate solicitor in the employment department.

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