Dropped Dead

Since journalists began reporting that junior employees at investment banks were falling ill and dying from overwork, the world’s biggest financial institutions have chosen to limit the hours worked by junior employees — an odd corrective that’s likely to fail. Credit Suisse is now the latest bank to officially make less work a policy, following Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. According to Bloomberg News, Credit Suisse has decided that “analysts and associates in the U.S. investment banking division should be out of the office from 6 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Sunday unless they’re working on an active deal.” This would produce a significant decrease from the 120-hour work weeks to which junior analysts and interns are accustomed.

The work-reduction initiatives began when a 21-year-old summer intern in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s London office, Moritz Erhardt, dropped dead in the shower from a seizure last year. The Guardian revealed that he “had worked until 6:00 a.m. three days in a row, according to some reports, and his fellow interns described him as an intensely focused workaholic who was focused on getting a full-time offer.” What likely led to Erhardt’s downfall isn’t uncommon: Young bankers use drugs like Adderall and cocaine to stay awake on the job, and are typically required to answer a superior’s call at any hour, leave a friend’s wedding for a deal meeting, break a date to fix the punctuation in a PowerPoint presentation. Banks cut off external messaging systems, which means, given analysts’ hours, they rarely communicate with nonfinance friends or family. The firms create a cult environment, a supposed meritocracy of hours worked. Most junior bankers are drawn from elite schools, bolstering the industry’s reputation as home to America’s smartest and most ambitious. The deranged life of a junior analyst is detailed wonderfully in Kevin Roose’s new book “Young Money” and in anthropological works like Karen Ho’s brilliant “Liquidated.”

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