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How much sleep do you really get when you work for a bank?

The truth about sleep in banking and finance

When we asked people for their 2020 resolutions earlier this week, no one said directly they planned to get more sleep. This is surprising: sleep is a big issue, and in banking it's bigger than elsewhere.  

Last year, we asked over 2,000 of our readers about their sleeping patterns. 60% of you said you were tired or exhausted, and there were pockets were the exhaustion was acute.

Sleep when you work in IBD

Investment banking divisions (IBD) have a reputation for long hours. This is where people work 80-100 hour weeks, and are regularly at their desks until 1am. 

One 20-something London analyst told us she sleeps four hours on weeknights and catches up at weekends. An NYC investment banker said it's not so much the hours but the intensity and unpredictability that's the killer: "Week in, week out, year in, year out....the next surprise all-nighter is always one email or press release away from coming to get you."

A fifth of people in investment banking divisions said they had less than five hours' sleep each night. The ongoing exhaustion in IBD comes despite banks' efforts to curtail working hours for junior staff.  Banks' initiatives mostly involve mandatory time off at weekends, but IBD juniors said they haven't done much good. There are complaints that "protected weekends" aren't enforced, that the "Saturdays off" rule simply means longer hours on Thursdays and Fridays, and that while Saturday is a rest day, Sunday is back to work.

A better place to work is technology in banking. 95% of people in technology told us they get more than five hours sleep a night. Even so, there were still complaints about late night calls from managers in other time zones.

Compliance and risk professionals are tired too

It's not just investment banking division people who are tired in banks. People in control functions also have sleep deprivation, with a surprisingly similar proportion getting less than five hours' sleep a night. The real issue here is pay: because control professionals are paid less than front office bankers and traders, they live further out where housing is cheaper. This means longer commute times and less time in bed.

Sales and trading jobs are good for sleep, although there are exceptions

On the whole, sales and trading jobs look like a good option for people who want to earn good money and be well-rested.

However, markets jobs also have their downsides. Sales and trading professionals go to bed early (50% are in bed before 10pm). But they also get up early (50% are up before 6am). Traders said their hours are more "humane", although there were complaints that, "Working 7am to 8-9 pm in sales and trading, and keeping track of the night's news keeps you under, "work and sleepless mode," for at least 14-15 hours a day, with no lunch and breakfast breaks during the day."

One London trader in his late 20s said juniors on structured product and exotics desks have it worse than anyone: they have to be in early and stay late to check risk. "You're also expected to read all the research you are interested in, all the while being sharp. It's a very tough position," he said.

Exhaustion isn't just about hours in bed. It's also about stamina. A third of hedge fund professionals told us they slept less than five hours a night, but compatively few said they were exhausted as a result. 

You'll get more tired, not less

Contrary to popular perception - finance careers don't necessarily become less tiring as you get older.

Finance professionals aged over 40 are almost as likely to have less than six and five hours' sleep as those aged between 20-25. Exhaustion peaks between 30 and 35 and again at 40+. The former seems to have something to do with starting a family ("I have recently found parenting is even more exhausting [than banking]," said one respondent). The latter seems simply to do with getting older. 

Basically, VPs and managing directors are tired. One (ex-) MD complained of the relentless workload, ridiculous expectations and a dysfunctional business model that "does not get better as you climb the ladder."  "I quit the coveted Managing Director role to gain some sanity back in my life," he said.

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Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • To
    8 January 2020

    Working in compliance and working 10+ hour days while getting 5 hours' sleep? Why?

    Go home. At best you're stuck in the office with no reward since you're not adding to the bottom line, at worst you're actively creating more overhead for those who do.

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