While many of us strive for meaning and to be revered in the workplace, senior investment bankers couldn't care less. According to a study conducted by researchers at Queen Mary University in London, senior level employees in the investment banking sector aren't concerned with others' opinions of them, since they don't associate their work with their personal identities. Instead, their ambition to make money with the promise of more to come is the motivation to maintain their duties and neglect any concerns regarding their work performance.

The study consisted of six investment bankers and found that these senior employees exhibited “marginal concerns about identity issues or engagement in what is typically viewed as identity work.” Each subject was interviewed between 10 and 12 times, over an 18-month period; their responses showed that they had little concern for any inconsistencies between their work activities and sense of self. The disconnect between their professional and personal lives was so extreme that researchers coined a new term: teflonic identity maneuvering, a process in which they avoided any difficult encounters or experiences from “sticking,” a press release said.

In light of their stressful work environment, co-author of the study Professor Maxine Robertson expected the subjects to acknowledge at least some issue regarding their work life and personal identity. "Investment bankers work in difficult, demanding, and often sexist environments. We’d expect to find at least some evidence of anxiety, concern about being ‘out of sync’ with one’s values, and discomfort among women with displays of overt sexism." However, they found none of this in their study.

The researchers also believe that while personal income is a driving force in the investment banking sector, it may also act as a cultural agent that shapes people’s values and behaviors. "The role of money was so great that it suppressed any concerns around challenges to self-identity," Robertson said. "The main reason for this, we believe, is that unlike any other sector, effort and reward are precisely assessed in real-time, solely in monetary terms. This is coupled with extreme employment volatility, which means it is vital to make as much money as possible in the present."

Along with profit, dress codes and demeanor were also found to influence investment bankers' lack of work-identity association. The necessity to conform to “the rules” was, among all interviewees, absolute, and one interviewee even described the role of appearance as a "veneer" that’s commonplace within the business.

Source: Alvesson M, Robertson M. Money Matters: Teflonic Identity Manoeuvring in the Investment Banking Sector. Organization Studies. 2015.