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Free Pelotons and iPads: How Wall Street is fighting Covid burnout

To keep employees happy despite rampant stress and exhaustion during the pandemic, some Wall Street banks are handing out toys, gifts and perks.

Jefferies sent a memo to its 1,129 analysts and associates, offering the option to pick between a Peloton bike, a MIRROR home workout system, or an Apple package that includes an Apple Watch, iPad and AirPods.

“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,” Rich Handler, CEO of Jefferies and Brian Friedman, President of Jefferies, wrote in the memo to employees.

Some Wall Street employees are fed up: Goldman Sachs analysts spoke up about working 95-hour weeks and enduring “inhumane” treatment. In response, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said the bank will strengthen enforcement of its “Saturday rule” and speed up hiring of junior bankers. Goldman’s “Saturday rule” mandates analysts be out of the office from 9 pm Friday to 9 am Sunday, except in rare circumstances.

On Monday, Citigroup announced that it’s launching “Zoom-Free Fridays” as a way to help the bank’s burned-out employees cope with stress a year into the pandemic. But it may not be much of a change: Citi said employees may still be expected to hop on internal audio-only calls as well as external Zoom calls, including with clients and regulators.

Booming markets and seismic changes in the economy have created ample business — and stress — for investment banks during the pandemic, and self-care and mental health have risen to the top of many employees’ priority lists.

That has led Wall Street firms to get creative in their response, especially because free food and gym memberships are no longer options to boost team morale.

The freebies come as Wall Street leaders deliberate how and when to reopen their offices. A new KPMG survey of 500 CEOs shows that some major global companies no longer plan to trim their physical footprint after the pandemic. Just 17% plan reductions, compared with 69% in August.

— CNN’s Clare Sebastian, Allison Morrow and Matt Egan contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: Money

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