98 Hours per Week

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Investment banking. Everyone knows about it, especially at Bocconi. Its difficulties are somewhat commonly understood, but they are put on paper by those working in the industry for the first time in recent years. A simple question follows: are you willing to accept them?

Slightly more than half a year ago, some of the most important news outlets in the financial industry shared a report about an issue thought by most resolved in the last decade. Made for internal review by senior executives, it contained an 11-page presentation from 13 first-year analysts at Goldman Sachs about their working conditions; less than 5 hours of sleep, and more than 95 hours spent weekly on the job were only some of the information presented. At first glance, these shifts could seem reasonable when one thinks about how much a junior analyst makes at such institutions, but not once you do the math on the human psyche. Still, nowhere in the report was mentioned the need for a wage increase. Nonetheless, all of the Bulge Bracket banks decided to do so. Some might say they threw money at the problem, while others would, in a more reasonable manner, call it a temporary solution for issues that unfortunately have deep roots in the industry.  

In the last few years in particular, these problems pushed more and more people with intensely sought skills away from Investment Banks, either into founding their own companies or working in the IT sector, an industry also in need of such expertise and with even greater resources to obtain it. While the latter destination suggests a certain importance of remuneration, the former shows that it can be put in second place (at least initially), especially when one accounts for the freedoms of being both employer and employee in their own company. 

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However, it would be utterly unfair to ignore the advantages of working for institutions such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, or Evercore, who connect actors of prime importance in the most disparate industries as well as taking an active part in transactions that can change society for the better. Not to mention the on-field training they provide (some could say the least one could expect from these long hours), a required step for those wanting to move on in Private Equity. The costs behind these perks are not always offset before the analyst leaves; in Goldman Sachs’ specific case, almost none of those who wrote the report thought they would still be at the firm beyond six months. 

What are some possible solutions then to improve both acquiring and retaining talent in the financial industry? One doesn’t have to look far to answer this question; some of them were proposed by the 13 Goldman Sachs first-year analysts themselves. For a start, they suggested to reduce the number of hours worked per week to a more acceptable level. They then asked to respect the policy regarding free time during weekends. Both suggestions a European would take for granted, thanks to the EU’s labour laws.  

In terms of work relations, bettering communications between teams as well as devoting more time to prepare material for meetings are also highly advised. Lastly, the analysts ask for importance-oriented prioritization of different tasks, and more consideration in meetings. To sum up, these quality of life improvements would be useful to tweak the work-life balance towards the latter, as well as to reduce the mental and physical strain still notorious in the industry. 

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As Bocconi students, we know the difficulties waiting for us once we walk through the lions of Via Sarfatti. We strive to do our best in every possible situation and are proud of this. We know our responsibilities. We aren’t here because we want to live an average life. It would be a lie, though, to say that each of us will make it. What those Goldman Sachs analysts did is to intrinsically tell everyone this. They went beyond expressions usually employed by HR to tell-don’t tell what awaits beyond the rigorous selection process we all know. They managed to show what Machiavelli suggests hiding in his Magnus Opus “Il Principe” (by some considered ironic in its description of the characteristics a prince must have); the hardness, not always justifiable, behind great results.  

After all, what this article desires, to do is but to pose a simple question: are you sure this is what you genuinely wish to do? And are you ready to overcome multiple failures? These are questions worth posing ourselves, now that we are slowly coming back on campus. 

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