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Asian bankers fear “slacker” tag if they demand shorter working hours

Work life balance

An increasing number of finance professionals in Asia are quizzing agency recruiters about whether the banking jobs they are applying for offer a reasonable work-life balance.

This is often as far as it gets, however. The same candidates are reluctant to broach the subject of working hours when interviewed by banks.

“More and more banking professionals in Asia want jobs offering them a better work-life balance – it’s a noticeable shift in recent years,” says Adrian Choo, business development director at Lee Hecht Harrison.

“I’ve seen APAC regional sales directors who don’t mind taking a pay cut and handling a smaller market just to spend more time with their families,” he adds.

While candidates are happy to chat with recruiters about work-life balance, mentioning the subject at a job interview remains taboo.

“Never say ‘I want better work-life balance’ during an interview. Here in Asia banks will get a bad impression that you’re a slacker – it’s a deal breaker in this region,” says Choo.

In the past three years, though, global banks have introduced new initiatives to promote work-life balance, most prominently so-called ‘protected weekends’ for analysts.

“Sure, it would be great to work less, but I wouldn’t mention this at an interview, even if the bank has an actual policy in place,” says one recent graduate at an investment bank in Hong Kong.

“The interviewer will potentially be your boss and bosses don’t take kindly to people they perceive might not work hard for them. This is probably even more the case in Asia, where juniors are still expected to be quite obedient.”

Rather than raising the thorny issue of working hours, some candidates in Asia are simply staying away from roles at the larger global investment banks, say recruiters.

“I’ve had people turn down opportunities at Goldman Sachs because of its image of having long hours,” says Kyle Blockley, managing partner at recruitment firm KS International.

If you want to find out about work-life at a particular bank, it’s best to take an indirect approach.

“If the conversation gets more casual at the end of a job interview, ask a few innocuous questions about the manager’s own role, including, for example, their working hours and whether they regularly take late-night conference calls,” says Choo. “This should allow you to gauge their general attitude towards work-life balance in their team.”


Image credit: fstop123, Getty

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