As the coronavirus exploded around the world last week, people who work on the trading floor inside Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Manhattan skyscraper caught fevers.
One of them, a managing director, rattled colleagues while trying to decide whether to stay at the office. The executive went home, came back to work Monday, then left again with chest pains. Meanwhile, an associate who woke up with a fever worried about letting down bosses but stayed away.
This wasn’t a Goldman Sachs problem. Wall Street’s nonstop aggressiveness is clashing with the demands of a deadly pandemic. As government officials, doctors and companies tell people around the world to stay home, interviews with bankers and traders inside the industry’s giants show many feel torn between public health and private profit.
“People do come in when they have a cold,” said Jim Toes, who runs the Security Traders Association (STA), an industry group. “Sometimes you have that old boss where you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t: If you stay home, you get that snickering response. If you come in, you get in trouble.”
Wall Street’s blanket directives telling workers to stop coming in aren’t as simple as they sound, especially for traders. One said he’s facing pressure to be “a tough guy” who follows the unwritten wartime rules. If there’s money to be made, the trader said, his bosses would want him in the position to make it, even if there’s a healthier and more soulful message being broadcast by the bank’s chief executive officer.
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