I see so many heartfelt conversations and calls about “work-life balance” in our industry. About how people can choose to be more present at home, choose to clock in early to watch their kid’s sports day, and hit the gym in the middle of a long day.
And I agree with that.
I completely agree with all of this.
I also think it’s a top notch move.
Of course, you can go to the gym in the middle of your workday.
Certainly, some days this will not happen. Urgent meetings will spill over into the time you carefully set aside for exercise. But that’s okay, it’s work time anyway, right?
The only problem is that with a working day that starts around 6:30/7am and goes on until 7/8pm, at what time is not work time? Early calls, late calls, “catch up” on weekends.
It is dishonest of us to tell people that they have a choice of their mode of operation in this industry.
Of course they have the choice to assign and protect some of their time and there is flexibility in the long hours. You can (and should) take time out and do what’s important to you and your family, but are we really saying long hours are optional if you want a career in finance? Are we honestly telling people that work ethic and resilience aren’t valued traits, in their own right, in our industry?
Are we really saying that we are not all buying flexibility at the high price of availability?
I think we are all trying say is that we know that the way things are is undeniably not right and healthy. And we collectively wish that it were not so.
But here comes the friction.
As an individual, if you want to be successful in your chosen career, you have to play the game you are in. According to the rules, everyone plays it, for the most part.
And I say “largely” because it is entirely possible to push the limits and redefine certain rules of the game and chart your own course. But the reality is that if you are a changemaker by profession or choice (if you advocate, drive, implement and embody change in everything you do), then you are already pushing the boundaries.
If you are outspoken, energetic, and curious, you are already pushing the boundaries of the normal order and pace of things in your organization.
If you look or sound different, you’re already pushing even more boundaries.
Do you really think you can be a color changing actress and too pushing the work-life balance agenda? Without considerable personal cost?
What is my point, exactly, I hear you ask?
Exactly that. Really.
That at an individual player level, we all have to play the game we’re in. We can play a different game if the one we’re really in doesn’t play it for us, but we can’t really play the game we’re in. are in differently and not…lose.
While we’re in a particular game, that’s the one we have to play. With all its rules and weaknesses.
What does this mean in practice?
This means that as a technology provider, I may find RFPs to be a counter-intuitive way to select technology partners. I have written a lot about this. I’ve talked about it a lot both at the industry level and within the organizations I’ve worked in that practiced voodoo themselves. I’ve made a few small changes, but the vast majority of the industry, including people who have had the pleasure of my lectures on the subject, are still bidding.
Do you think that I prevent my company from participating on principle?
You cannot win a race in which you are not participating.
Of course we participate.
It’s a sub-optimal way to select technology, yes, but it’s the way the industry does things and while we as a company want to continue to make our mark, in our time, in our industry, it is so. This is how the cookie crumbles. Here’s how it goes. And so that’s the game we’re playing.
Do we need to change the game?
Yes. But this cannot be done at the individual level without also paying the price of exclusion at the individual level. And it’s a terrible choice that we present to ourselves, as if it were the only one.
If an individual employee of a large bank, a large consulting firm, a growing start-up unilaterally decides to work their contractual 9 to 5 with an hour for lunch and 15 minutes break at the required intervals, two things will happen…their workload will start to increase and they will fall behind. Working long hours isn’t about better organizing your time. There are so many things you need to do or, just as importantly, see yourself doing.
The second thing that will happen is that slowly but surely they will stop being the go-to person for their team or client. If something urgent happens and you don’t respond in the time the organization sees fit, you’ve given up.
Does all of this really, really, really matter, I hear you ask? Is the building on fire? Is someone’s life in danger? Does it really matter that I didn’t make it until the next day?
In real terms, maybe yes (if a payment system is down, that’s really important) and maybe no (if what was “urgent” was a storm in a teacup of elderly people with the visibility of certain unflattering details).
But in career terms, it still matters, and political capital accumulates and is spent in times that tend to revolve around your personal availability.
So if you want a career in this industry, this is the game.
If you don’t want to play it (which I respect), then playing a different game is probably more profitable than trying to play this “Your Way” game. I’m not saying it’s good. I’m just saying it’s sadly true.
And the same goes for our businesses.
We all know that assessments are not a sustainable business, but providing the evidence to create the kind of assessment that will get you the headlines, funding, and accelerators needed has been the game. And for people who are attached. I played there. Often not drinking their own Kool-Aid. It’s a dance. And you dance it until the music stops or changes.
We all know that when BNPL became the “flavor of the month”, everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – added it to their arsenal without thinking too much if it was this different or this relevant to what they were trying to do, because their investors and industry analysts had respectively requested and expected it. That’s the game. If you’re in it, you play it by the rules. And if you don’t play, you can’t win. You can’t win if you don’t play. Facts.
Now that DeFi is becoming “The Topic,” it’s popping up in banking planning, advisory strategy decks, and investor packs like the cilantro spring gracing your dish at a restaurant. Not an integral part of the dish, but very present, as expected.
And it continues.
Conventions and habits and misinformed expectations, perhaps, that shape the topics, frequency and tenor of the conversations you have at the individual and company level, at the career and company level at some time. And my point is this: see through convention what’s precious and what’s muscle memory, what’s constructive and what’s obfuscation, what’s real and what’s noise, is precious. But that may not always inform your actions in real terms. Because your actions are in context, and context determines their impact as much as your intent. And yes everything is interconnected.
It’s not just about work-life balance, but it’s all about the things the industry does and how it does them. And the things you’re supposed to focus on and the hours you’re supposed to work might not be related, but the mechanics of how they shape the game you’re playing are not.
And yes, we’ve been transforming this industry for nearly two decades now and we’re not nearly making enough changes here. We’ve added new topics to the old ways to engage with them. And added to the workload and the stress, especially since some of the new subjects and the old ways of working really don’t go well together and we solve that by adding human labor to the mix.
And yes, in many ways, getting it right is a key part of the job we’ve been trying to do for a decade and a half.
If we want our employees to do meaningful work and have a work-life balance. If we want the commitments between our companies to be balanced and meaningful. If we want our industry to be energized by new ideas but not distracted by every shiny thing that moves. If we want to do meaningful work that has impact at the individual, community and corporate level…we have to face the fact that we have to fundamentally change the game we play at the corporate, market and community level. ‘industry. We cannot change this from our position for ourselves and our communities, nor will Bobby fly no more reverse the damage done by multinational corporations dumping untreated waste into our water supply and pumping carbon monoxide directly on our faces.
I am a big believer in individual responsibility.
But for some things, focusing on the individual (person or company) is a displacement. And this is one.
If you want to be successful as a person or a business, you play the game by the rules that everyone else follows, for the most part. You resist, you push the limits, but deep down you look around you and make choices that will guarantee your success or simply your survival. in the context in which you find yourself.
All I’m saying…is that if we all see that the context is broken, that the rules of the game require immense sacrifices of time and energy and focus on one individual and collective level on things that don’t really matter or that could be done better for the good of all, it may be time to change the situation.
And always go to the gym at lunchtime.
Leda Glyptis is the resident thought provocateur at FinTech Futures – she leads, writes, lives and breathes digital transformation and disruption.
She is a recovering banker, a lapsed academic, and a longtime resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief account officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are his own. You may not have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!
Follow Leda on Twitter @LedaGlyptis and LinkedIn.