Investment banks: nice or nasty?

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The financial services firm challenged - and lost - a breach of contract appeal after sacking an investment advisor who was on sick leave in August 2004.

To date, Goldman has declined to comment. However, a Sydney-based headhunter concedes a ruthless approach and gruelling hours are just part of the territory for those who want the lucrative rewards that come with a career in investment banking.

What about banks' efforts to promote work/life balance and shorter working hours? Mary Grant, principal consultant in Hudson's banking & finance recruitment division, says: "Flexible working hours are pretty irrelevant when i-bankers work 14 hour days. They get paid a lot of money to work those hours. All it means is they work eight am until 12 midnight rather than six am to 10pm."

Oliver Darkes, principal consultant at search firm Carmichael Fisher, agrees the hours are long but says banks really are making more of an effort than they used to: "[Investment banks] are providing more annual leave, paid maternity leave and even paternity leave."

He adds that work place flexibility is dependent on "whether a deal is going on in the office" and an employee's seniority.

Is it all worth it? The hours may be comparable and the working environment just as relentless, but Australian financial services pay continues to lag that in the world's major financial centres. Plus, there aren't the same perks: "In the UK you might ask 'Do you get gym membership, health insurance, life insurance? Is there an extra top up on the pension?' In Australia you don't really get those types of benefits - they're just not part of the package," says Victoria Biggs, a consultant at Jon Michel Executive Search.

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