Picture this: It’s 9 p.m. and your workday is finally winding down. You, a professional in your 20s or 30s, haven’t heard from your manager in a few hours. Things are looking good as you start closing out dozens of tabs and spreadsheets, hoping to shut the laptop and take a few hours after dark for yourself. Suddenly, a ping.
A “pls fix” email.
“Until you’ve gotten that 10 p.m. ‘pls fix,’ you just don’t get it,” says Amelia Noël, a former consultant and investment banker turned career coach.
“Pls fix” is shorthand for a curt note from someone up the chain—and is a phrase that has become a phenomenon among corporate stiffs in certain high-pressure fields. The buzzword has spawned “pls fix” merchandise, and made it into the Urban Dictionary, which defines “pls fix” as a frequent email reply from a boss in consulting or finance that “more accurately translates: ‘fix this ASAP and don’t F$%^& up again.’”
The text might vary—“please action” or “make better”—and the notes tend to come with little instructions. (What the heck needs fixing?) But the message generally translates to: stop what you’re doing to send the 39th version of a PowerPoint slide to your boss.
“If you get that email, it’s expected to get turned over by the time your managing director gets back into the office the next morning,” says John Senkarik, a 39-year-old business analyst, who says he recently got a pls fix message while at a cabin with his family. As his children played nearby, Mr. Senkarik stepped outside to a back porch to work through the assignment, which took about two hours.
Few things panic young professionals like getting the notes. On Instagram and TikTok, they share snapshots and stories of receiving “pls fix” emails at all hours and on vacation, while at bars, at the gym, by pools, on trains, slopeside at ski resorts, or as they are boarding a flight. A podcast called “Pls Fix Thx!,” which started early in the pandemic, talks about “modern-day fads and trends that leave us feeling overwhelmed, drained and burned out.”
Sanchit Wadhawan, a 25-year-old consultant who lives in Atlanta, is one of the podcast’s hosts and knows the terrain well. One Friday evening, he was planning to watch
with his parents at the end of a long week. He was about to close his computer when he saw an urgent instant message from his manager.
He received a draft PowerPoint with about 50 slides—a compilation of several files formatted in different styles. Mr. Wadhawan needed to make the font uniform and ensure the color was consistent throughout, and he needed to do it right away.
“You can’t put weird fonts in front of a client,” he says.
At the office, many workers are dialing back efforts and reporting lower levels of engagement. But consultants and bankers—who have tended to be corporate climbers terrified of the “out” part of “up or out”—are still leaning into the grind.
To be ready to respond to a “pls fix,” Ms. Noël, the former consultant and banker, would lug her laptop to brunch and bars. She took it on a Christmas carriage ride in Central Park with her family, and regularly charted her running routes to stay within a 15-minute radius of her laptop.
Those few seconds between double-clicking on the email attachment and understanding the scope of the assignment held a special dread. Was this a few quick wording changes to a slide deck? Did she need to rerun an entire data analysis? Was this going to blow up her night?
Close readers of The BOG—a satirical internal newsletter at Boston Consulting Group—will find Easter eggs in the copy referencing “pls fix.” In one, The BOG writers joked that high-level managing directors and partners speak certain languages conversationally including: Please fix, arreglalo porfa, and correggilo per favore. (The newsletter’s writers declined to comment.)
Susan Grimbilas, global head of human resources at BCG, says consulting has always required late-night work, but in-person feedback can be more meaningful. A “pls fix” email can feel transactional in a remote setting, especially without much instruction about why something needs to change, she added.
BCG teaches managing directors and partners about giving more effective feedback, she says. Still, if a presentation’s numbers don’t square, she adds, “I don’t care what time it is or where you are—you’re going to have to make sure your numbers make sense.”
Alex Raines, 29, who lives in Austin, knew about the “pls fix” culture when he started as a data-analytics consultant last year.
Before he began, he rewrote the lyrics to “Lose Yourself” by Eminem and posted it on LinkedIn, in a homage to his chosen field.
“His arms are heavy, knees weak, palms are sweaty / There’s coffee on his vest already, spilled his Yeti / He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to pls fix, but he keeps forgetting the right deck.”
Litquidity, known for finance-related memes, sells a “pls fix, thx” mug for $15 and a ball cap for $35. Crazy Mgmt Consultants, a meme account on Instagram, sells a “pls fix”-themed ugly Christmas sweater for $45 and baby onesies for $25 reading: “Daddy and Mommy, Pls fix my milk ASAP, thx. Sent from my iPad.”
Some managers send “pls fix” emails, but urge recipients not to pull an all-nighter, as Mohak Mehta, a New York-based consultant, says he does for his direct reports. Sometimes he says he tells them to “time box” an assignment. (That’s consultant-speak for seeing how much can be done in 10 minutes, or an hour, and then leaving it until the next day.)
Still, Mr. Mehta says many young professionals in finance and consulting are high achievers, and ignore his instructions and work late anyway in pursuit of a perfect final product.
“At the end of the day,” he says, “that’s what clients are trying to pay you for.”
Write to Lindsay Ellis at [email protected]
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