Friday, January 17, 2014

Work, Rest, and Wall Street

Last week, the New York Times Dealbook ran a story entitled, Wall Street Shock: Take a Day Off, Even a Sunday.  The story details how Bank of America Merrill Lynch is supposedly encouraging its investment banking analysts and associates to take four days a month off…on the weekends. 

As the authors note, "[s]uch an offer from an employer would sound like punishment for the average worker. But for junior employees of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, that recommendation was intended as a bit of relief."  The memorandum was probably a relief …if the Merrill Lynch really meant it, and if it will be respected by the various managing directors.

At many large investment banks (and law firms), true rest is largely absent.  Analysts and associates are pushed, and push themselves, to the brink.  Call me cynical, but I doubt Merrill Lynch is doing this primarily for the good of its employees.  Perhaps Merrill Lynch thinks the diminishing returns of working 80+-hour weeks and the high employee turnover are impacting their bottom line. 

While the lack of true rest is glaring on Wall Street, I think any modern employee can suffer from insufficient rest.  With smart phones, it is possible to be on-call 24/7.  Taking a full 24-hour break from work can, and often does, lead to more productive work in the remaining hours of the week.  As Dr. Stephen Covey famously noted, it pays to take time to sharpen the saw.  Relatedly, I recently listened to a 2003 recording of Dr. Timothy Keller speaking eloquently on the topic of work and rest, from a Christian perspective, to his New York City audience.  The recording is available here.

The benefits of intentional, regularly-scheduled rest can be seen not only in our job, but also in our exercise.  One of the best marathon training plans on the market right now is the FIRST training plan, developed at Furman University.  Most marathon training plans recommend running five to ten times a week and recording a high volume of miles, but do not have much focus on pace or rest. 

In contrast, FIRST recommends only three runs a week, but focuses on quality and encourages a variety of speeds and distances.  Some of the recommended speeds are much faster than the average marathoner would typically run, but FIRST also encourages more rest than most plans and more diversity in types of exercise.  While the FIRST plan seems to recommend an insufficient number of miles to many marathon runners, it has led to countless personal records over the past few years.   

Wish you all a restful weekend. 

Update:  See Professor Brian Quinn on Emma Jacobs' article on "why the recent fashion of limiting junior bankers hours is doomed to fail.  In short it boils down to [two] things:  the nature of the clients and the nature of the people who work for banks."  For what it is worth, I think they are probably correct (note my two big "ifs" above).  That said, I do think there might be a way to give a client 24/7 service and also give junior bankers (and lawyers) a 24-hour break each week.  On the point that most of the people working in these jobs are "alpha types," I think even the "alpha types" could appreciate 24-hours of rest each week, and may realize they perform better as a result.

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