Opinion

The Great Debate

These days, we’re all disgruntled workers

The average Goldman Sachs employee earns in excess of $350,000 per year, and we’re assured Greg Smith, who most visibly quit his job there last week, was paid substantially more.

And, in leaving his long-time employer, Smith didn’t abandon just a fat salary. To regain his career freedom, he knowingly forfeited a considerable sum in deferred compensation as well.

Most people in the world, of course, can only dream of being so highly paid for their work, so it’s a good assumption that a very large percentage of the working population has summarily judged Smith’s resignation as an act of complete insanity.

If they could coach him, they would say: “Go back to Goldman, Greg! You have a terrific deal! Subordinate your concerns about a declining corporate culture and profit-at-any-cost leadership. You have a penthouse to go home to at night!”

But this scenario is a complete fantasy. Regardless how little or much they are making, U.S. workers have begun to quit their jobs – in droves – to go in search of organizations, and leaders, they feel will better support their needs. As Smith’s actions show us, pay no longer is the driver of engagement or job satisfaction it once was.

Goldman’s capitalistic monoculture

Greg Smith doesn’t have any new criticism of Goldman Sachs in his New York Times op-ed today. Nor are his points as detailed and documented as the SEC’s allegations in the ABACUS case.

Instead, Smith is selling a warm, self-congratulatory glow to anyone who thinks that Wall Street used to be great. In some halcyon era, according to this view, Wall Street’s success was great news for employees, for customers and of course for the economy as a whole. And it was great because it was built of great things: “teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients … It wasn’t just about making money.”

In Smith’s moralistic telling, Goldman’s success was the result of its culture. And as TED has pointed out, that’s a vision of its business that has been sold for a long time, at least since the days of Sidney Weinberg.

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