Why junior bankers don't sleep

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Maggie Thatcher got four a night. Napoleon only two. Obama gets a whopping six. Hours of sleep that is.

The average junior investment banker (read analyst, or associate) ranks somewhere between the Corsican Emperor and the Iron Lady. And here is the weird thing – they are proud of it!

Bankers usually try to get as much of anything they can. Lobsters, Lamborghinis, lovely ladies… money, naturally. Getting more than anyone else is part of the job description.

And yet, when it comes to getting sleep, one of the most basic human needs (and pleasures), bankers boast of not getting any.

‘I’ve been here since 10am,’ said the young banker waiting next in line to me when I came in at midnight, trying to get my time sheet signed. ‘And now I’ve got to stay here until the markups are finished.’

‘Oh, that’s tough,’ I said. ‘I’ve slept less than four hours in the past two days,’ he smiled. ‘Me too,’ grinned his analyst colleague. ‘Last night I just went home and showered and came straight back.’ The first banker looked a little miffed – he had been trumped. When you work in finance, not being allowed to sleep is somehow manly and heroic. A weird combo of puritanism and machismo.

Sleep deprivation is like being drunk but without the fun. I know. I often zigzagged along Cheapside in the mornings, traffic whacking my ears like a psychedelic symphony, neon colours jumping out and triggering uncontrollable emotions.

Is that really the best state of mind to perform the delicate actions required to finesse a pitch book for clients? In my time, I saw a lot of people doing the zombie walk: arms out in front, feet stumbling, keep moving, keep moving…

The worst thing about sleep deprivation is that it makes you impossible to work with, especially if you're supposed to be managing people. One banker asked me to create 600 pie charts from one Excel spreadsheet. When I told him that it would take 50 hours, he screamed and crumpled all his papers. We had to wrestle them back. I found him an hour later, circling the huge work floor at great speed, muttering to himself. Nobody stopped him.

As anyone who's worked in banking will know, juniors themselves aren't wholly to blame for this state of affairs. It's standard for senior and superior bankers to tell juniors to start a new project just before they themselves go home for the night. Selected for being hardworking and eager to please, the juniors will always try to deliver the next morning - even if they do so with swollen eyes, trembling hands and an inane grin.

Sleep deprivation is a rite of passage in banking. If you can't function on four hours' sleep for at least three years, you won't be a banking leader of tomorrow. It's that simple. Unfortunately.

Nyla Nox worked for seven years on the graveyard shift in the graphics department of the Most Successful Bank in the Universe in London – a Global Center of Excellence. She has seen more dealbooks (and mistakes) than any banker will see in a life time. Her novel ‘I did it for the money’, first volume in ‘The Graveyards of the Banks’ is available for pre-order on Amazon.  

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