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Fat, Balding, and Broken Legs: The Consequences of Working in Professional Services

Last week I wrote an epic poem to the art of suffering. The TL;DR is that it’s dumb to work yourself to the bone for an employer who sees you as an expendable resource and bragging about how many hours you put in doesn’t mean you’re any better at your job than the guy in industry who clocks eight hours or less most days of the year.

While I fully stand by that article, it wasn’t meant to imply that you’re not allowed to complain or even wallow in the circumstances of your insufferable work life. Hell, that’s practically the entire foundation of this here website. In that vein, we thought it was worth sharing the first-hand accounts of early career bankers who are now speaking out about their experiences. Let’s just say it’s a good thing 22-year-olds are so resilient or these places would run out of new recruits fast. For accounting at least, some might say firms are already having trouble filling chairs with warm bodies. Gee, can’t possibly imagine why that might be.

Why shouldn’t these professional services have trouble filling chairs, what with accounts like this?

Working in a junior banking job is to know what’s like not to sleep for a whole year, said [former Greenhill analyst Tushar] Agarwal on Twitter. After interning in M&A at Barclays in 2010, he joined Greenhill for two and a half years between 2011 and 2013. “Within 2yrs, I put on 15kg [33-ish lbs], started losing hair, what hair I had left started going grey, developed RSI so bad I lost feeling in 2 fingers for 3 months, my hand would spasm randomly and I would just drop what I’m holding,” said Agarwal, adding that many of his ailments were common to a 62 year-old, rather than a 22 year-old.

Something tells me more than a few of you can relate. Or how ’bout this one?

If this sounds bad, however, there is even worse in Alexandra Michel’s seminal 2012 paper on the lifestyles of young bankers. Michel, herself a former Goldman Sachs associate and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, interviewed around 100 bankers repetitively over a nine-year period. At that time, she found that many juniors were working 120 hours a week, “even when there was nothing urgent to do.”

Michel found that her junior bankers pursued a particularly grueling work schedule for the first four years of their careers, irrespective of the physical consequences. Beyond that, their health had deteriorated to such a degree that maintaining the same pace was impossible. – ‘‘The only way I can keep myself up nights in a row is through a mix of caffeine pills and prescription meds,” one junior told her. ‘‘I fell on my way to a meeting. The leg changed color and I had pain, but I chose not to think about it until after the meeting,” said another, who subsequently discovered her leg was broken in two places.

Where’s our Adderall squad at? I see y’all.

For the old-timers around here, it’s worth acknowledging that things have not gotten any better in recent years for early-career accountants. Case in point, this 2008 article by Rick Telberg entitled Working More, But Enjoying It Less:

“I should have gone to dental school,” laments a mid-level internal auditor in business and industry who feels frequently stressed by a job that entails 60 hours to 70 hours of work most weeks and more than 70 hours per week during busy season.

CPAs are “on” quite a bit according to a CPA Trendlines study of how much accountants work and how much stress they feel (download the free 7-page PDF report). Only about six percent of our CPAs in all walks of the profession work fewer than 40 hours per week, while 58 percent work at least 50 hours per week year round, including four percent working an average 70-plus hours per week.

All of this begs the question: why is it like this? Because 22-year-olds can handle it? I mean if that’s the case, we might as well fast track kindergarteners into business degrees and get them to work as soon as possible since kids have an unlimited source of energy and mostly obey adults even when they don’t want to.

Considering we’re far past the point where automation was supposed to make all your lives easier, what gives? This ain’t the glorious future we were promised.

Related articles:

Your Suffering Is Not Noble So Let That Sh*t Go
You Can Easily Replace ‘Investment Banking’ with ‘Public Accounting’ In These Reactions to the Goldman Sachs Workplace Abuse Claims