In the Black recently interviewed an entry-level employee at Bank of America (who spoke on the condition of anonymity). We asked for her views and opinions on BofA's culture, BofA's management and her level of job satisfaction. The following is an excerpt of that conversation.
ItB: What do you do for BofA?
I'm essentially a low-level data management associate.
ItB: How'd you get the job?
I was originally brought on as a temp (a "contractor"). After about six months, I was hired as a full-time bank employee. Another employee left and my manager recommended that I apply for the position. Actually, because of bank policy, my manager could not recommend me; I had to apply like anyone else, and my manager had to pretend that he was equally considering everyone else who sent in a resume. In fact, several times he stated that he had to "look over other resumes," and when I asked him when I would know about the job, he acted as if I was just another schmuck off the street. In retrospect, this was mostly a waste of time, since I was clearly being groomed for the position, and everybody involved knew I would get it.
ItB: How would you describe the culture at BofA?
My initial experience was from the perspective of a contract employee, and honestly, at first, I did not get much of a taste of the corporate culture. At BofA, temp employees are segregated from full-time employees and not allowed to participate in "real" bank proceedings (like associate meetings, etc.). I thought my coworkers were fine, my manager was nice and, overall, I thought it was a cushy sort of job. Once I was officially hired, though, I started to become acquainted with the bank culture. At first, it was sort of amusing. I mean, we all expect those Dilbert-esque corporate moments when we're in a job like that, right? You just kind of brush them off as the nature of the corporate world. But over time, even though I was doing well at my job and got along, I grew increasingly more frustrated with the corporate culture.
ItB: How so?
Once I became an employee of the bank, I saw how contractors were treated. Keep in mind that my office is, at times, close to 60 to 75 percent contractors. They outnumber the regular employees and, in some cases, have been here for a really long time (I can name three contractors who've been here as long as I have, know and do many of the same things I do, and are hardworking, trustworthy people). Occasionally, I see spreadsheets containing contractor info, including their "end dates," which are always within a couple of months; the dates just keep getting pushed back. At any point these contractors can simply be let go. Once I sat in on a meeting where a manager told me that some of the contractors would probably be let go soon -- he even knew who would be let go -- and yet the contractors were never told. In fact, contractors are simply not allowed to stay more than 12 to 18 months at the job, and yet this was never communicated to me or, as far as I know, to other contractors. At one point, a manager "wasn't sure" whether a contractor knew they were definitely going to be let go within weeks. I was also in another meeting where one of my managers complained about contractors talking to each other during work. It was a meeting that should have taken five minutes, and that could've been handled over email, but instead lasted 30 minutes thanks to the manager complaining.
ItB: Right, the unnecessary meeting. An integral part of every corporate employee's day.
Afterward, some associates joked about how they could scare the contractors by trying to catch them slacking off.
ItB: That's messed up. But sort of funny.
Meanwhile, bosses would visit to let us know how great a job we're doing, how much they appreciate us, and how we need to keep "winning." One of the bosses actually said all this to a room filled with contractors who make less money than I do but do the same work, who don't get healthcare, and who recently had been excluded during "Associate Appreciation Week." BofA couldn't even bother giving contractors a cheap mug during the "Week"; my managers deliberately hid boxes of pizza so contractors wouldn't get any.
ItB: What do you mean they tell you to keep "winning"?
One of BofA's "core values" is "Winning." That's it. Winning. That's the entire value.(1) And you can read it on a poster in the break area. Obviously, a company like BofA is a profit-seeking business, but to me "Winning" goes a step further than simply making money. And it's fundamentally incompatible with the other BofA core values, like "Doing the Right Thing" and something about building trust. You probably can't always be "Doing the Right Thing" if you're also focused on "Winning." Sometimes, one of the two has to be compromised for the sake of the other. And you do hear high-level executives say that we should focus on "Winning." Once, in a town hall meeting, Brian Moynihan [the BofA CEO] said, "I love winning." Which was disheartening, to say the least. Who wants to work for a company that doesn't even try to disguise how soulless it is?
ItB: What else can you say about BofA's soullessness?
For one thing, I feel like I'm working for a company that treats me more like a customer than an employee. I'm subjected to countless corporate platitudes; I get promotional e-mails advertising items in the Bank of America store. As if I would want to spend my own money to buy a Bank of America t-shirt. And the bank uses an "employee recognition" system that feels more like a retail reward card than actual appreciation. It even uses points, and I can redeem them for prizes. It's laughable. I'm not sure how anybody can feel truly appreciated by this system. For instance, at one point my manager gave me 500 points for successfully completing some project. Those 500 points translate, basically, to $25. I can then redeem those points on a website and get things like magazine subscriptions, or belts, or other stuff; or I can save them up and redeem them for larger prizes. Is this really how a company chooses to treat working adults? With what is essentially a rewards card for a retail store? It sounds silly just talking about it. My manager never even personally told me I was being "recognized." He filled in some form online and I received a form e-mail telling me I had gotten some points. In short, I don't feel respected. I feel manipulated. I feel like Bank of America would rather pretend to respect me than actually respect me. I could go on.
ItB: Please do.
If you open up the company's internal website, you will actually find internal "talking points" the bank advises you to use if someone asks you about some controversial issue. The company doesn't even try to disguise this: they use the phrase "talking points" and provide neat little paragraphs you can regurgitate in defense of the bank. Stuff like that is rampant. Bank of America is a company engineered to defend and promote Bank of America. Any employee that thinks the company gives a shit about them is mistaken.
ItB: You mentioned town hall meetings that the bank holds. What typically happens at these meetings?
It's primarily a report on the company, how it's doing, quarterly results, etc. During one town hall, Brian Moynihan was taking questions over the phone. A bank employee of two decades called and said his retirement had been wiped out by plummeting stock prices. The guy was near retirement, probably around 60, and didn't know what he was going to do about his future. Brian Moynihan dodged the topic, fired off some vague bullshit, and moved on. And then, for the next week or so, I'd hear people making fun of the 60 year old. As if he'd done something wrong by confronting the CEO during a town hall. As if he wasn't right to approach Brian Moynihan and ask if the company had any plans to support him after decades of service. There are countless other reasons to condemn the company. And yet you can't acknowledge those reasons, because you can't badmouth the company you work for. Everybody is focused on winning, on driving business.
ItB: What about your direct managers? How would characterize them?
Bank of America is simply bloated, as most corporate entities are. I have two managers that work in my office, and countless other bosses that, frankly, I can never keep straight. My managers are constantly on the phone trying to sort out contradictory instructions, trying to get approval from multiple people for some small decision. Even on low-level projects, I can personally be sending emails to half a dozen people, who then copy half a dozen other people. Sometimes simple requests will be lost for days, as many employees are either loathe to respond to e-mail or swamped with them.
ItB: Overall, despite how you feel about BofA as a company, would you say you're satisfied with your job?
Day by day, my job is fine. I don't make great money, but I get by. My coworkers are nice. And by nice I mean that they're just regular people who are probably grateful to have a job. We get along, we do our work. They're not ogres or anything like that. But at the end of the day, we're not writing bank policy. My coworkers can be as friendly as possible and I'm still working for a company that doesn't respect me. My managers, despite adhering to bank policy, are nice people. The contractors at the office are probably grateful to have a job, even if it's far from secure. But the job is not rewarding. The bank pretends to care about you with Associate Appreciation Weeks and rewards programs, but it's all transparently phony.
ItB: Anything else you'd like to add in closing?
At the risk of over-generalizing, Bank of America has demonstrated the same poor policies and decision-making that many major financial companies have. I mean, that's a large part of why we're in such an economic mess, right? Bank of America in particular, though, has seen bad news after bad news, as far as I know. They're wrongfully foreclosing on homeowners. Their exploitation of overdraft fees was near-criminal (until it was made actually criminal). They're constantly implicated in all sorts of shady financial dealings. The company's just been a mess.
*On December 13, 2010 (after this interview was conducted), BofA unveiled a new set of "core values." In place of simply "Winning" is now the following value: "Deliver for our customers, clients and shareholders – We share a passion for winning and serving the financial needs of individuals, corporate clients and institutional investors. We believe that disciplined execution will lead to sustainable, long-term performance."