Does Work/Life Balance Exist on Wall Street?

by Derek Loosvelt | July 11, 2012

It’s no secret that investment banking analysts and associates work an obscene number of hours per week. Of course, hours can vary from firm to firm, city to city, and group to group. (Bulge bracket M&A bankers in New York, for example, tend to work more than corporate finance bankers in San Francisco.) But overall, I-banking requires junior bankers to work anywhere from 80 hours per week on average up to 110 hours week. And, in some cases, bankers are discouraged from using all of their alotted vacation days each year.

However, recently, the phrase "work/life balance" has been creeping into the halls of even the largest, busiest investment banks on Wall Street. And despite the monstrous workloads, many analysts and associates say their firms actually provide them with a very good work/life balance. In fact, many bankers told us in our latest Banking Survey (which was administered this spring and which will determine our 2013 Vault Banking 50, forthcoming in less than two months) that work/life balance is alive and well on Wall Street.

Now, before I continue, I should point out that, as touched on in a previous post (What the BLEEP is Work/Life Balance), the ubiquitous phrase work/life balance does not necessarily (or only) refer to number of hours worked; rather (or in addition), it refers to flexibility of scheduling, the ability to work remotely, respect of one’s time, the ability to take the vacation time one is entitled to, and not doing meaningless work, among other things.

That said, here’s one bulge-bracket associate speaking about life at his firm:

“We work a lot of hours, but the high level of responsibility for associates and VPs makes it not as bad as it could be. MDs and partners generally don’t care where and when the work gets done provided that deadlines are met, so it’s your choice as to whether you stay late, work from home, or shift work from one day to the next. And most people don’t mind if you take a day off to attend things such as weddings or family events—as long as the work gets done.”

Working from home is definitely something that is prevalent on Wall Street (and which wasn’t prevalent as little as just a few years ago). Here’s a boutique M&A banker speaking about his workload:

“Senior bankers don’t care if you’re in the office as long as you’re getting your work done, and even that can be done at home much of the time. Also, there’s a real effort to tailor the amount of work to the importance and probability of generating revenue on the project.”

Indeed, many bankers at the busiest firms (those with the strongest deal flow) told us that there is little time spent on non-revenue generating work. That is, these days, fewer hours are spent on pitches that end up going nowhere but that still require scores of hours of junior bankers’ time. Here's what another banker (in M&A) at one of the top firms on the Street has to say on the subject:

“Senior bankers respect work/life balance, and since we're focused on deep relationships, there isn’t a lot of pitching to burn time outside of live deals.”

Also gone, for the most part, is face time—staying in the office when you’re work is done but senior bankers are still around. Here’s one associate at a top boutique bank speaking about her experience:

“Long hours come with being in the industry, although I think our hours are better than most. Also, there’s no face time, and the hours you do spend here are typically on meaningful work.”

And another banker says:

“Truly no face time, either during the week or on the weekends. But when situations go live, and the deal team is lean, long hours are inherently necessary.”

Which brings me to this question: Why are long hours necessary? Are they truly inherently necessary? Does everything absolutely, positively, have to be there overnight?

One bulge bracket analyst, who loves his specific job but has little love for some of the general aspects about life on Wall Street, has this to say about work/life balance:

“I genuinely enjoy the people I work with. My managers have been people of exceptional ability, remarkable drive, and integrity. Some of the greatest mentors I’ve had have been senior-level individuals here at the firm. However, it’s difficult to not be able to make weekend plans or vacations without the real possibility of having to put together some sort of deliverable on a weekend. Investment banking as a career at the analyst level is highly demanding and makes work/life balance difficult. Unless the industry as a whole changes the way the job is done (for example, a client asks for something on Friday afternoon and a managing director indicates we will get back to them by Wednesday instead of Monday morning) it will generally be that way no matter the firm.”

What do you think? Is it possible that one day an interaction on Wall Street will look like this:

Joe the MD: Hey, Bob, when you get a chance, can you run the XYZ merger model with these 17 different scenarios.

Bob the Analyst: Sure, no problem, Joe. When do you need them?

Joe the MD: Oh, no rush, Bob. Sometime next week’ll be fine ... enjoy your weekend!

Read More:
What the BLEEP is Work/Life Balance?
Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan: Which is More Prestigious?
19 Hardest Interview Questions On Wall Street
A Day in the Life of a West Coast Wall Street Banker

Filed Under: Finance | Salary & Benefits | Workplace Issues


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