Investment bankers’ idea of what is normal is distorted
All the studies show that more than half the deals bankers have talked clients into undertaking destroy rather than create value
Anyone who has been hired by Bank of America could surely have got a more civilised job elsewhere. Photograph: Chris Keane/Bloomberg
Working 14 hours a day is ruinous to your health, your family, your relationships, your personality and your temper. It’s also thoroughly inefficient. We know all this, but the sad case of Moritz Erhardt has reminded us of it, all over again.
Even if it turns out that the death of the Bank of America intern had nothing to do with the long hours he worked, the story still makes me marvel over one of the greatest mysteries of office life. Why is it that a way of working that is both unpleasant and unproductive is common practice in the most sought-after and successful corner of the economy?
Why do young investment bankers put up with it? They know that they will be working round the clock, but they appear not to mind. This year Goldman Sachs had 17,000 applications for 350 opportunities to spend the summer working far harder than is healthy or wise.
I’ve been playing a game I loved as a child when I considered horrifying counterfactuals such as: under what conditions would I eat a bowl of sick?
This time I’ve been pondering something even less appealing: what would make me regularly work 14 hours a day? I’ve come up with three possibilities. First, if I were being paid by the hour and my family was barefoot and hungry. Second, if it were my own business and I had become unhealthily obsessed with it. And third, if the work was a matter of life or death. If I had been a nurse behind the lines in the first World War, I would not have been clocking off at 5.30pm.
None of these situations applies to young investment bankers. They are under no financial pressure. Anyone who has been hired by Bank of America could surely have got a more civilised job elsewhere. The work of a banker in M&A (where Erhardt was posted) is hardly the sort of thing that spreads human happiness: all the studies show that more than half the deals bankers have talked clients into undertaking destroy rather than create value.
So why do they tolerate the hours? I’ve just cross-questioned two novice investment bankers, one of whom was so flushed with triumph at having landed the job all his friends wanted that he seemed to welcome the amount of work as further confirmation of his own worth to the organisation – and to the world at large.