So, Corporate America sunk to a new all-time low a few weeks ago. (I was traveling and missed the initial news, caught up with it later.) Apparently, an investment banking intern in the London office of Bank of America/Merrill Lynch died, apparently from overwork. (OK, so in fairness, this Black Hole event of contemporary Western Culture took the combine dysfunction of both sides of the Atlantic. Correct.)
The deceased intern was a 21 year-old business student from Germany, at the top of his class at a prestigious school. He was in week seven of an eight week program and, according to fellow interns, had pulled eight all nighters in two weeks. In London, this is called a “Magical Roundabout”, where one works through the night, then rides a cab home at 6am to shower and change while the cab waits downstairs to take one back to work.
Apparently, the young man did have some history of epilepsy that may have contributed to his demise. I don’t think, however, there is any question that the type of work schedule alluded to in much of the press coverage (100+ hour weeks, regular 40 hour shifts at a time) on its face sounds unhealthy, abusive, and counterproductive. I don’t think I want my money managed by someone who works that much, or takes advice and analysis from someone who works that much. Financial management should be a thinking job, and I don’t care who you are, if you’re working that much and sleeping that little, at some point the brain shuts down and you are on automatic mode.
Of course, there’s nothing new about the I-Banking crowd working this much. And there is nothing new about them working themselves to death—although it usually involves someone a bit older and Cocaine or Meth. (No indication in the press reports so far of use of stimulants, controlled, illicit or over the counter.) Or maybe later on, a heart attack.
I’ve simply never understood what is so great about working nonstop, missing family events and events with friends, dropping all your hobbies, never taking vacation, never seeing the inside of your own home, living sleep and nutrition deficient. Of course, without a tailor-dressed slave class, the Powers That Be that run places like Bank of America/ Merrill Lynch wouldn’t have the money and the power to strut around like Gods from the old Greek stories, maintaining stables of gladiators to fight their battles, betting on favorites, dangling gold trinkets in front of the daring and the naïve hoping to relieve boredom with some live entertainment.
One other point—one person working 100+ hours a week in a job that pays $150,000 or more, is two people working 50+ hours a week at a job that pays $75,000 give or take. Or three working 30ish hours a week with time for training and maybe even a corporate community service program and making $50,000+.
How did we get here? I think I need to get a copy of Stud’s Terkel’s Working. His observations of the work culture that developed in the second half of the Twentieth Century seem like appropriate reading for this fall. Of course, there’s a broader question as to why, five years following on an economic collapse, continues to support this type of goings on in the Financial Sector.
To Change, wherever we may find it. And in the right direction.