Among outsiders, the City generally has a reputation for two things. One, being the beating heart of the world leading UK financial services sector. Two, not being a particularly great place to work.
The burnout related death of 21-year-old Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt, who collapsed in the shower after finishing a 72 hour shift in 2013, or the accounts of 18 female employees detailing "meat market" conditions at Lloyd's of London, are just some of the notable examples of toxic culture that have come out of the Square Mile in recent years.*
However, it appears that firms are starting to take steps to change this reputation.
Last week the Telegraph reported that Lloyds of London had employed law firm DWF to teach senior staff about "the norms of acceptable behaviour" - the latest move by newish chief John Neal to carry on the reforms introduced by his predecessor Inga Beale.
The article also described the efforts of law firm Baker Mckenzie to introduce communication guides teaching when it’s acceptable to email colleagues, and more importantly what you shouldn't say.
You might not think it would be necessary to introduce rules about not leering at co-workers, stealing their lunch from the fridge or contacting them after midnight, but these things sadly happen. And, according to the Equality Group, nearly half of UK workplaces (44 per cent) still have no policies in place when it comes to dealing with inappropriate behaviour at work.
This is more than a matter of ethics. At the risk of banging an oft-played drum, making sure that staff feel welcomed, free from harassment and safe at work has a material impact on long-term profitability, not least by helping businesses attract and retain diverse talent.
There’s no quick fix. Introducing policies will not change behaviours that have been ingrained for decades overnight, a fact Neal himself alluded to in a recent interview with the Evening Standard.
"The under-35s get it, obviously. The old guys like me recognise we should have acted sooner and more certainly. But the change we need is for managers in the 40-to-50 bracket to get the right outlook and the right culture. That last 10 per cent is always the hardest to fix."
Age of course can never act as a justification for ignorance – the majority of over 35s act with integrity and know what’s right or wrong in the workplace, and for that matter there are plenty of under 35s who don’t. The point is that culture is the problem and it’s hard to see your behaviour as wrong when you’ve spent decades in a culture that perpetuates it.
Policies and conversations are just the start of what might be a long, but essential journey. That journey needs to take everyone along with it.
*It’s worth noting that such behaviour is clearly not exclusive to City firms, and there are many City employees who have long, rewarding and fulfilling careers, but when it comes to corporate stereotypes, financial services firms certainly seem to have taken the biscuit.
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