Post-MBA Investment Banker Syndrome
Ah, pity the poor investment banker.
Sure, they manage to eke out a better living than average schnook – even a first year analyst with a BS degree can make a couple of hundred grand. And they do get to do God’s work (at least if you believe Lloyd Blankfein, and who doesn’t?).
But it turns out that tt’s not just coal miners and lumberjacks who have it rough. All that investment banking may be hazardous to your health, too.
A University of Southern California researcher found insomnia, alcoholism, heart palpitations, eating disorders and an explosive temper in some of the roughly two dozen entry-level investment bankers she shadowed fresh out of business school. (Source: Wall Street Journal.)
And this doesn’t even factor in breathing town-car exhaust, shoulder separation from dwarf hurling, back problems from slurping down jello shots off the bellies of lap dancers, and carpal tunnel from tying bow ties. Not to mention eye strain from staring at their Bloombergs all day, and brain-strain from having to come up with jokes within 15 minutes of something horrible and/or interesting in the news. (E.g., the recent Costa Concordia cruise ship run-aground set off a cascade of bad jokes, most of which come from The Street. What's the difference between the Italian economy and the stricken cruise liner Costa Concordia? Nothing - The bottoms dropped out of both. As I understand, the day that Pope John Paul II was elected, no one on Wall Street got any work done as the Stock Exchange became the Polish Joke Exchange.)
Anyway, these poor guys are just walking wrecks. No wonder they get paid so much.
Alexandra Michel, who teaches at USC’s b-school, began her study a decade ago, having gotten permission to hang around two banks, as long as she kept the banks’ ID’s quiet. Michel:
…shadowed the bankers at the office—sitting next to them, following them to meetings, mirroring their hours and even pulling all-nighters—for more than 100 hours a week during the first year, about 80 hours a week during the second year, and then followed up with in-person interviews.
“By the fourth year of the study, many bankers were a mess. Some were sleep-deprived; others developed addictions.”
Gosh! And that was years ago, before we learned that everything that goes on in an investment bank is not necessarily laudable, or aimed at the common good. How much worse it must be under today’s harsh spotlight?
These days, there’s the frothing mob howling when they read that bailout money went to paying mega bonuses to contend with. Bad enough that we have to fork over because the banks were too big to fail and their tumble could take down the entire economic shebang. Who among us wants to write the check so that investment bankers can get something more than a lump of coal in their stocking – something more like a lump of coal crushed into the Hope Diamond – because if they didn’t the talent would walk.
It’s kind of hard to dredge up complete sympathy for investment bankers. Presumably most of them were smart enough to know what they were getting into. It’s not like someone with my interests, skill set, personality, and competitive instincts was transported one morning to the Goldman trading desk and not allowed to leave. (As the WSJ article has it, “no one is being drafted into high finance.”)
Still, I wouldn’t wish “long-term health conditions such as Crohn's disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disorders” – all reported by those averaging 80-120 hour work weeks in i-banks – on anybody.
Interesting, the study found that, after five years, while one-fifth had left investment banking for fewer greenbacks but greener pastures, only 40% of those remaining chose to “prioritize their health, meaning they paid more attention to sleep, exercise and diet and set limits on how much they allowed work to consume them.” The other 60% soldiered on. This latter cohort I would definitely place in the little sympathy for category.
If you can’t stand the Crohn’s disease, get out of the investment banking kitchen.
You can see the full study, Transcending Socialization: A Nine-Year Ethnography of the Body’s Role in Organizational Control and Knowledge Workers’ Transformation here.
Other than the quick summary in The Journal, I haven’t seen any translations anywhere. For those who speak ASL (academic as a second language), here’s the paper’s abstract (from the Administrative Science Quarterly):
A nine-year ethnography is used to show how two investment banks’ controls, including socialization, targeted bankers’ bodies, how the bankers’ relations to their bodies evolved, and what the organizational consequences were. The banks’ espoused and therefore visible values emphasized autonomy and worklife balance; their less visible embodied controls caused habitual overwork that bankers experienced as self-chosen. This paradoxical control caused conflict between bankers and their bodies, which bankers treated as unproblematic objects. The conflict generated dialectic change that cognitive control theories overlook because they neglect the body. Cognitive control theories predict outcomes only in bankers’ first three years, when the banks benefited from bankers’ hard work. Starting in year four, body breakdowns thwarted organizational control. Despite bankers’ increased attempts to control their bodies, performance declined. Starting in year six, intensified breakdowns forced some bankers to treat their bodies as knowledgeable subjects. Because the body cannot be socialized completely, it helped numerous bankers transcend the banks’ socialization and modify their behaviors. Surprisingly, the banks benefited from this loss of control because the bankers’ ethics, judgment, and creativity increased.
And I wonder why I decided after one year in a PhD program that I just wasn’t cut out for the egghead life?
And a tip to Rick T for sending along a raft of Costa Concordia jokes.
Labels: interesting business