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Are bankers in Japan just working too hard?

Bankers are used to hard work, but could overwork be driving some of them out of the industry?

Overwork has always been a reason for some people in banking to look to switch to a different industry or a “less aggressive” firm, according to Kevin Naylor, team manager of the financial services division at Wall Street Associates. But in the current climate, overwork is often coupled with a sense of being underpaid. And that can cause unrest.

“As the global financial crisis came on, we first started seeing this tendency in the front office, where people knew they could not expect the bonuses of recent years even though work would be much harder,” says Naylor.

This resulted in an increase in sabbaticals or people starting their own businesses, he adds. “As the crisis has moved on, we have seen this move into the middle and back office, where mandatory downsizing – despite little or no decrease in workload – has resulted in overwork.”

David Leithead, managing director Japan at Michael Page International, says the shift caused by the financial crisis – in which hours have often gone up significantly whilst compensation expectations have gone down – has in some cases caused a sense of disillusionment that may make people more readily consider a move.

In extreme cases, it can cause people to quit without a new job because of burnout. But this doesn’t mean we are likely to witness an exodus from the banking industry.

“Bankers themselves are unlikely to respond by moving firms, as they have an obvious connection between what they put in and what they get out over the short, medium and long term. In the support functions, however, this can seem different, particularly in the short to medium term,” says Leithead.

Yet given the cyclical nature of the industry, Leithead is optimistic that a sense of normality will return.

“The rewards will return to support functions and the positive attractions of the banking sector will be alluring once more. The pressure, the quality expectation, the dynamic and ambitious culture, and the chance to earn bonuses and be more overtly valued, are all attractions. But in the meantime banks risk losing good quality people if they cannot find short-term solutions to alleviate the pressure,” he adds.

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  1. If they don’t like it they can join the line for a satisfying career at McDonalds

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