How many hours do you work in a day?
Urban Dictionary defines the phrase “bankers’ hours” as a joke—“Working or being open for the shortest and most inconvenient amount of time. . .also includes a long lunch break and every possible holiday off.” The reality, of course, is very different.
The issue has taken on greater relevance recently because of the buzz generated by Goldman Sachs’ decision to create better conditions for investment banking analysts. The company has developed a ‘junior banker task force’ to improve the working environment and nurture careers, and is even discouraging analysts from working weekends, since this puts more pressure on entry-level bankers and support staffers.
It’s no secret that Goldman has taken a public battering in the past few years, most memorably being described as a “vampire squid” in a scathing article in Rolling Stone magazine. But this is actually an industrywide concern—in the public mind, the stereotype of lucrative compensation is balanced by the reality of 100-hour workweeks.
The issue was highlighted most tragically by the death earlier this year of a Bank of America intern who was completing a seven-week internship program in London. By some accounts, at least, the long hours worked were a factor.
As industry observers often point out, the banking industry is by no means alone in featuring a grueling schedule. Consider healthcare—more than a decade ago, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education capped hours for hospital residents at a staggering 80 hours a week. And remember, this is a field where a mistake can literally be lethal.
Nor is this confined to the United States. A survey this summer of financial services professionals in Singapore revealed that the culture of long hours in equally entrenched there. Would similar surveys in markets around the world be any different?
Even the industry’s most aggressive boosters don’t expect the culture to change anytime soon. It’s understandable that not everybody has much sympathy for recent college graduates making six-figure salaries (even if they carry huge college debts). Besides, it’s a difficult economy right now, and everything from global competition to constant technology-enabled transformation only adds to the pressure. But the truth is that this is an industry that thrives on pressure—it’s in the DNA. That’s exactly why it’s not for everyone.
Still, no less a force than Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has been urging interns and other younger professionals to pursue interests outside the industry. And he’s right, it’s good to get a life.
If only we had the time.