Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Is the Era of Work Over People Coming To An End?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 16 (Conclusion)

Busting Your Corporate Idol (Conclusion)

I’m incredibly optimistic that the era of busting corporate idols is upon us. Look to the millennial generation – they grew up watching their parents work all the time, and want something better for themselves.

And more and more, those of us in middle or the end of our careers want a better life too. Even senior executives are starting to publicly admit that it doesn’t have to be this way. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable that an executive from Goldman Sachs would condemn the company’s values in a public resignation letter. But that is exactly what Greg Smith did a year ago.

In 2007, it would have been unthinkable that Erin Callan, then CFO of Lehman Brothers, would one day write about the regret she feels for putting the company first. Yet that is exactly what she did last week. Callan wrote

“I didn’t have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn’t have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn’t have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place [CFO] with at least some better version of a personal life. Not without sacrifice — I don’t think I could have “had it all” — but with somewhat more harmony.”

None of us can have it all, but we all can have people who love us. It’s just a matter of values and priorities.

Wherever you are in your life, whatever you have done in the past, it is never too late to shift your focus, to bust your corporate idol, and to start putting people first.

The people are there, waiting for you with open arms.

Not Ready to Pull a Greg Smith? Three Quiet Ways To Take a Moral Stand.

Anonymous Employee Review of Goldman Sachs from the website

Last week, I wrote Goldman Sachs Is Busted in response to Greg Smith’s public resignation from Goldman Sachs.  Smith declared in a very public way that  he could no longer identify with the company value system.  A reader commented after my post:

“Most people are afraid to speak up even when their lives are not in danger.”

The reader raises an interesting point.  There are over 30,000 employees at Goldman Sachs, but only one Op-Ed resignation.  Assuming Smith is making a legitimate point, why was he the only one to speak up?    Part of it is cultural – Goldman Sachs attracts and promotes people who share the company values.  Smith is at the other end of the spectrum.  And everyone else sits in between, including  the people quietly looking for a new career, and people who are afraid to speak up.

Needless to say, Greg Smith’s solution is not for everyone.  In my opinion, it would be unrealistic to expect that anyone who has doubts about his or her company’s values to immediately resign, and many people don’t speak out as much as they would like too.  In my opinion, one reason for silence is stress. According to the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, one third of US employees are chronically overworked and 41% say they they feel stressed during the workday.  When life is really overwhelming, taking a public stand against the company culture is a lot to ask.  At the same time, I think there is a price to pay for acting counter to one’s values.  George is in the financial services industry.  He saw practices that went against his values, and  spoke out “enough to be a little disliked but not absolutely fired.”  George shared the following

“I told myself this was a soul killing experience.  It messed with who I was fundamentally.  It did not make me happy.”

There is no substitute for leaving the company, which is what George eventually did.  But for people who aren’t ready or feel they can’t leave…

What to do?

I am a big fan of guerrilla marketing, that uses unconventional means to get a message across.  Speaking out against company culture is a situation where guerilla marketing can have a big impact. A frontal assault, the method chosen by Greg Smith, takes courage and a lot of resources.  It is also dangerous.  The objective here is not dramatic change, but rather a way to ease the conscience, and to nudge change in a slow incremental way.  The following “guerilla morality” tactics also help other people by providing the truth about the company, and the knowledge that they are not alone in their doubts about the company values.

Three Quiet Ways To Take A Moral Stand 

1. Speak Anonymously using social media to help get the truth out. describes itself as a career website that provides “an inside look at jobs and companies.” allows its members to rate companies on a scale of 1-5 in 8 different categories, such as compensation, communication, and work/life balance.  In addition, there are open fields where each reviewer gives the pro’s and con’s of working at the company.  For example, there are 684 reviews of Goldman Sachs, one of which is shown above. uses a “give-to-get” model, meaning that users can gain unlimited access to reviews, salaries and interviewing tips only after they share information anonymously about a current or past company.  A member of doesn’t need to make a big public statement to get the information about a company into the public view.  In my opinion, companies who treat their employees badly or that practice suspect values will be at a competitive disadvantage.

If you want to be a bit more aggressive, print a summary of the Glassdoor reviews and leave it on the printer.  (I always peaked at documents left on the printer.)  If I worked for Life Technologies, this document would get my attention.  If I worked at Hewlett Packard and felt demoralized, I might get a boost if I found this document and saw that other people felt as I do.

2. Withhold your public support by not attending company meetings.  In many companies, the quarterly company meeting is a “rah rah” event where senior management reviews development milestones and financial performance.  I have worked at companies where it was expected that everyone attend the meeting, and it was noticed is someone was absent. If you are concerned about getting in trouble, find a defensible excuse, like a doctor’s visit, or a call with a customer.

3. Try to influence the company using a Business Case For Good,  which is a financial forecast or other business case to support “the right thing to do.”  Often, a company needs to choose between two courses of action, where one course clearly seems to be the right thing to do according to personal values.  In my experience, advocating a business decision based on “the right thing to do” is an uphill battle and usually loses to an argument based on “the best thing for the company.”

Business Case For Good Template

Business Case For Good Forecast Template

The key to a Business Case For Good is a financial forecast like the example to the right, that compares two alternate scenarios.  In this example,  the right thing to do corresponds to Scenario 1 that brings in $123 million dollars additional revenue over five years.

Here is the secret to effective forecasting – make a picture, with red bad and blue good.  The numbers can tell any story, depending on the assumptions.*   (One more suggestion: never say that Scenario 1 is “the right thing to do.”  It will undermine the financial argument.  If someone brings it up, look confused and move on without comment.)

There are a lot of places to get data to support a Business Case For Good, such as a customer complaints database, performance data from product development, or cost-related data from manufacturing .  Things get changed by coalitions of people, and the data may open a door to win over someone in finance or marketing.

Could this hurt my career?

The short answer is yes, following the tactics above might slow down your career in the short run.  The sad reality is that on average, people who are more closely aligned with the company values (whatever they may be at your company,) will advance more quickly than those who are not.   This is a post with advice on how to quietly take a moral stand, not a post on how to get promoted more quickly. There can only be one top priority, and it is a personal choice whether values or career comes first.

It is impossible to predict the future, and a quiet moral stand might help your career in the short run.  I am convinced that a strong moral compass will help both career and company in the long run.  I think Greg Smith would agree.  His resignation letter ended with the following:

“Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm… People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.”


Goldman Sachs Is Busted

The Goldman Sachs Idol

On Wednesday, Greg Smith shocked the world with his op-ed piece “Why I resigned from Goldman Sachs.” 

 “I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.”

Smith walked away from a $500,000 a year salary because he could no longer look new recruits in the eye and tell them Goldman Sachs was a good place to work.

While I freely admit my bias towards people named Greg who tell the truth, there is more to this story than name worship on my part.  Greg Smith, for a while, was caught up in company worship, and now is an apostate, someone who in a very real way betrayed the culture he was a part of for twelve years.  It’s not an easy thing to do, even if the culture is toxic.

Greg Smith was caught up in Corporate Idolatry, which means that he was overly devoted to the value system of his company.  To take Smith at his word, he went to Goldman to do “what he thought was in the best interests of his clients, and considered it a noble calling to help protect their money.”  What Smith discovered was a disconnect between the stated values of helping customers – click here to read Goldman’s written code of ethics – and the reality of the day-to-day culture.  True values are revealed by actions, not the words that a company writes in a document.

But the real story is not whether Goldman Sachs has an ethical company culture.  I have seen commentary on both sides.  Smith is an idolbuster because he chose to no longer “worship” his corporate employer Goldman Sachs.  Smith found his people-first values to be in conflict with the company values, and he decided to follow his conscience.

It is a story of courage, someone who reconnected with his core values and decided not only to leave a toxic situation, but also to expose it for the world to see. Greg Smith is very much a traitor in the eyes of Goldman Sachs and has to live with the scorn of his former colleagues.

In know, because in a minor way, I did something similar when I left the corporate world to be a stay-at-home dad.  It wasn’t nearly as dramatic for me.  My former company’s values did not lead to a global financial crisis.  My issue was the mainly the callus way that employees were treated, and  it was costing me too much personally to stay.  But I didn’t burn my bridges like Smith did.  I told everyone I was leaving because of my personal journey, and didn’t make an issue of my concerns about the values.

Some people I hardly knew came up to me and said they admired my courage for walking away.  Other people I thought I was really close with with dropped off the face of the earth.  To be honest, that part was painful.  Greg Smith worked at Goldman Sachs for 12 years, since before he graduated from college.  Anyone who thinks it is easy to walk away from that has never walked in those shoes.

Some in the media have dismissed Smith’s actions, asking why it took him so long to question the values of his company.  To me, that question is irrelevant.   One of the most popular parodies has Darth Vader resigning from the Empire because of a deteriorating culture.  Interesting comparison.  Darth Vader is the incarnation of evil.  Except of course, that for most of the first trilogy, Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, a good guy who gets seduced into evil.  And in Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader’s love for his son overcomes his loyalty to the empire, and he returns to good.

It is never too late to start putting people first.  Good for you Greg Smith.  I am sure the last few days were stressful, but I bet you slept better at night.