On Wall Street You Might Get Vacation, But You Can’t Take It

by Derek Loosvelt | July 03, 2013

Investment banking analysts and associates notoriously work very long hours. It’s not uncommon for a corporate finance analyst at a prestigious bank in New York to regularly work more than 90 hours each week, or for an M&A or restructuring associate to put in more than 80 hours week after week. And it’s not even all that unusual for first-year analysts at busy Wall Street firms to log in more than 100 hours in a single week (which means, on average, working more than 14-hour days).

Although these heavy workloads might seem unfair and inhumane (even considering the significant salaries and bonuses junior bankers receive, which, when reduced to hourly wages, aren’t all that handsome), most undergraduate and MBA students entering banking know full well what they’re getting into; they’re well aware that they’ll be putting in nearly triple-digit-hour workweeks and that their lives will largely, if not entirely be spent working. However, what they aren’t aware of, in many cases, is that the generous vacation time promised to them before they begin to work might never come to pass—that is, although they officially “get” vacation time, many analysts and associates are unofficially discouraged from taking it.

This past spring, Vault surveyed* more than 3,000 investment banking professionals, asking them to rate and tell us about various quality of life issues, including company culture, working hours, work/life balance, relationships with managers, career development, compensation, and benefits. With respect to benefits, what many respondents told us, among other things, is that although working remotely is increasingly being encouraged, using vacation days isn’t.

Here’s one bulge-bracket analyst speaking about his workload and supposed vacation allotment:

Some days I crank from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m., while other days I come in at 11 a.m. and have nothing to do—both of which I’m fine with. However, it’s the weekend unpredictability that’s most difficult. Seniors treat Saturdays, Sundays, and major holidays as if they’re normal Monday mornings. There’s no acknowledgement that you could be relaxing with friends or family, and they’re unapologetic, to say the least, about pulling you into the office on an off-day. It’s painful to cancel consecutive vacations or long weekends that you’ve planned weeks and sometimes months in advance.”

At another bulge-bracket bank, an insider says that although “we’re able to work from anywhere—we have BlackBerry and remote login access—given the scaled-down teams, there’s more work to go around, which makes it difficult to take full advantage of vacation and the flexibility we're afforded.” A colleague at the same firm concedes that vacations can be taken, but notes you’re not exactly relaxing on the beach. “You work all the time,” she says. “That's the long and short of it. You can mostly be flexible, which is great, but you work all the time, even on vacations, every night, every weekend. You're always on call.”

Yet another young bulge-bracket banker notes that the workload can be detrimental to your health:

Although [the firm] emphasizes the importance of work/life balance, when push comes to shove, little is done to turn the rhetoric into reality. Managers regularly acknowledge that their junior resources are ‘slammed’ or ‘drowning’ but don’t offer solutions. Systems have been created to track hours with the goal of helping to distribute work more evenly, but little has come from that. For me, personally, the absence of a social life outside of work, the inability to plan vacation with my close friends or family, and general lack of sleep and downtime have resulted in malaise and even physical health issues.

To be sure, it’s not only at the large investment banks that insiders are discouraged from taking their vacation days. A banker at a leading middle-market investment bank based in the Midwest says, “I feel well compensated but I lose unused vacation days above 15 days. So I lose about five to 10 vacation days per year.” A junior banker at a global bank in New York has the same experience. “Most employees don’t come close to using their full four weeks,” he says, “and only five days can be rolled into the following year.”

According to a banker at a boutique in New York, it’s not just the workload that prevents juniors from taking their vacations. “Even though your contract specifies a certain number of vacation days,” he says, “no one actually takes them all due to obligatory face time and perception concerns.”

Of course, not all banks—or business units or senior bankers within banks—are created equally. There are firms and divisions and managers that (sort of) encourage juniors to head to the beach or mountains for a few weeks each year. Here’s a bulge-bracket associate talking about her experience: "While hours are long, remote connect allows for flexible hours, particularly on the weekends. Vacation time can sometimes be challenging to take, but my experience has been that if you take it at certain seasonally slow times, you’re able to use it more than what the public perception out there really is."

And a junior banker at a mid-market firm says, “There’s not a lot of pressure to put in face time. If I can take a long weekend or a vacation, my superiors are happy for me. The job, however, is very demanding, and those opportunities are very limited.”

*Later this summer, the week after Labor Day, we’ll be releasing the results of our most recent Banking Survey, unveiling which firms rank as the most prestigious, which are considered the “the best to work for,” and which offer the best benefits, among other categories.

Read More:
Have A Great Vacation (If It's Approved) (NYT)
10 Best Benefits on Wall Street
Which Wall Street Bank Treats Its Employees Best?

Filed Under: Finance | Salary & Benefits | Workplace Issues


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