Balancing the work-life equation

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Fine: investment banking can offer all of these things. However, if you also want weekends with friends, evenings in front of the TV, and time to potter in a new home, think again.

If you enter an investment bank as a trainee analyst, be prepared to arrive at your desk first thing in the morning and leave last thing at night.

The life of a trainee analyst is compared to that of a junior doctor. The 2001 Reuters Survey for larger companies shows 58% of analysts work between 60 and 80 hours a week - and this includes more senior ones, who get to leave before 10pm! Moreover, working hours are increasing.

According to Tempest, the company which undertakes the Reuters Survey, analysts' hours have been on an upward curve since 1995.

The result of this upward curve is that many analysts work weekends, cancel holidays, and some sleep in the office. The situation is notoriously worst at US banks, where the long hours culture is most ingrained.

Similar to the days worked junior doctors, long hours are perpetuated by senior managers' acceptance of the situation, as most went through a similar process.

It is not difficult to understand that spending 70 hours a week at work leaves little time for anything else. If you're planning to take on an analyst's position it may therefore be necessary to forego your interest in rare birds or a time-consuming relationship.

According to a university careers advisor, the life of a trainee analyst is unsuited to anyone looking for a fuller life with other interests: &quotYou get lots of money but you don't have time to spend it.&quot

It is questionable that analysts are richly rewarded during this period of heavy slog. A quick calculation reveals that 48 weeks, working 65 hours a week, for 35,000 (E56,000) a year amounts to little more than 11 an hour.

A recent survey of 18-25 year olds by Lloyds TSB showed 93% would be more likely to stay in their jobs if employers offered a good balance between work and life.

However, recruiters at investment banks are sanguine about the hours routinely worked by trainee analysts. Helen Bostock at JP Morgan says: &quotThe investment banking industry is known by graduates to be an area in which commitment and outstanding achievement are necessary.

&quotGraduates are expected to work hard, but they are also well rewarded,&quot she says.

For some banks, the queue of would-be analysts is evidence in itself that they must be doing something right. &quotThere are a phenomenal number of people who want to do this and we have a low rate of turnover. I think that says enough,&quot says the head of graduate recruitment at one leading US bank.

It was not always so. Last year, with dot-coms competing for top graduate talent, banks were under greater pressure to examine conditions. Chase Manhattan installed a &quotchill out&quot space equipped with computer games and a pool table for its venture capitalists.

Morgan Stanley, among others, provided some employees with a valet service to fulfil personal chores such as shopping and decorating. Salomon Smith Barney in the US contemplated offering disgruntled analysts underwear on expense accounts.

Others thought about giving sabbaticals, similar to those already made available to top graduate performers at management consultants Arthur Andersen.

Derek Walker, head of graduate recruitment at Merrill Lynch, says: &quotAll banks are aware that 70 hour weeks are not good for people.&quot

But now that the dot-com tide has turned and the so-called war for talent has abated, impetus for better working conditions and shorter hours may disappear.

However, some claim say the genie is out of the bottle. Joseph Luciano, of Credit Suisse First Boston, says: &quotWhen organisations start a really coherent discussion on work life balance, there is no return. A new generation of employees expect work-life balance policies in the same way that they expect a desk and a chair in the office.&quot

Future graduate entrants could, therefore, make it clear that quality of life is an important part of the package. Whether this will happen is another question. Even should sabbaticals and free underwear not be forthcoming, there will undoubtedly be no shortage of investment banking applicants.

A few years' hard slog can seem worthwhile, in return for the large sums paid to senior associates and above. The long hours can even be enjoyable: late nights and takeaway pizza are not without a certain charm.