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The Margin: How Goldman Sachs and Citi are dealing with COVID burnout: Zoom-free Fridays and work-free Saturdays

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Even Citigroup’s new CEO recognizes Zoom fatigue. 

Jane Fraser is making headlines this week — and not just for becoming the first woman to lead a major Wall Street bank. In a memo to Citigroup’s
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210,000 employees obtained by outlets including The Wall Street Journal, Fraser announced a new “Zoom-Free Fridays” policy to ban internal video conferencing calls at the end of the work week, in order to combat “the relentlessness of the pandemic workday.” What’s more, she has designated Friday, May 28 as a company-wide holiday called Citi Reset Day. 

″The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being,” Fraser wrote. “It’s simply not sustainable. Since a return to any kind of new normal is still a few months away for many of us, we need to reset some of our working practices.”

Her memo comes on the heels of Goldman Sachs
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CEO David Solomon reckoning with a presentation from 13 of his employees that went viral last week, which described an “inhumane” work culture at the second-largest investment bank in the world. The in-house analysts complained of 100-hour weeks, senior bankers shouting and swearing at employees, as well as the company not respecting its policy of Friday nights and Saturdays off. One worker said that the treatment from senior bankers was “arguably worse” than his childhood living in foster care.

So Solomon sent a memo late Sunday promising to “strengthen enforcement” of the “Saturday rule” — meaning employees cannot work from 9 p.m. Friday to 9 a.m. Sunday, except in certain situations. He also said that the company will hire more junior bankers to help alleviate the workload. 

“We have to help people find balance in an ever-connected world,” Solomon wrote in his memo. “In this world of remote work, it feels like we have to be connected 24/7. We’re here to provide support and guidance. This is not easy, and we’re working hard to make it better.”

And Jefferies Financial Group Inc.
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sent a note to its 1,129 analysts and associates last week, inviting them to pick between a Peloton
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bike, a Mirror home workout system, or an Apple
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workout package as thanks for their hard work over the past year.

“You have given us your all these past twelve months and these gifts are a sign of our deep appreciation for your dedication, sacrifice and contribution to our success in the face of challenging circumstances,” CEO Rich Handler and President Brian Friedman wrote. 

So why the sudden investment in the emotional well-being of employees? Work-from-home (WFH) burnout is real, and it is getting worse as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year. The average workday is almost an hour longer than it was before the pandemic, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper released last summer. A recent report from NordVPN Teams, a New York-based company that provides virtual private networks (VPNs) to businesses, suggests it’s more like 2.5 extra hours a day as the lines between personal and professional lives become even more blurred than they were before. 

Jumping from one video call to the next via platforms like Zoom
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,
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Meet and Microsoft
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Teams is also wearing remote workers down physically and psychologically. Even Stanford researchers say that “Zoom fatigue” is real. “Just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to,” the lead researcher wrote in a recent report published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior. So Citigroup’s “Zoom-Free Fridays” sound like a step in the right direction. 

Americans in general have also reported getting worse sleep, drinking more alcohol, gaining weight, as well as worse mental health as the pandemic has dragged on. 

But there’s hope. Here are four ways that those Stanford scientists suggest you can fight Zoom fatigue. 

Plus, check out these seven tips that workplace experts and psychologists recommend for combating burnout, such as ways to set boundaries and stop working when your work day is supposed to end. 

And employers can check out these five ways that your company can make working from home even better.

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