If you make it into a senior role in investment banking, there are plenty of reasons to stick around. The pay, the prestige, the lack of alternative careers that can offer similar remuneration. But what if the job is affecting your health?
Investment banking, particularly IBD, is notoriously bad for you. Long hours can create a litany of issues – insomnia, alcoholism, eating disorders and heart palpitations among them, according to a highly-cited 2012 study of the sector by University of Southern California academic Alexandra Mitchell.
For James Gorman (not the James Gorman), who was latterly a managing director and head of financial institutions for the CEEMEA region at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), this crunch point came when he was just 26.
“Stress is a permanent fixture when you’re working in a high-pressure sector like banking. Looking back, it was clearly a big contributor to my health issues, but it wasn’t obvious to me at the time,” he says. “Like many illnesses, mine developed over many years. There were symptoms, but I convinced myself it was nothing serious…until I was rushed to hospital.”
Gorman was taken in for emergency bowel surgery and was later diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Despite the fact that he was convinced the stressful work environment was a big factor behind the disease, he continued in investment banking for another nine years.
“You’d have thought I might have changed something, but I didn’t,” says Gorman. “There’s no question the doctors saved my life, but they also prescribed drugs to suppress my immune system and mask the symptoms. This allowed me to continue with my lifestyle without taking real responsibility for my own health.”
Gorman’s final role at RBS was based out of Dubai, and when the bank took the decision to pull back from the region as part of its strategy to focus on the UK, his role was made redundant. There was an offer on the table for another job in London, but this was an inflexion point.
“I knew I wanted to do something outside of banking, but it took a few years for me to finally make the leap,” he says. “The longer you stay in banking the more you get used to a certain income and lifestyle. The more you have the more you want. And it’s an illusion that having more brings happiness. It took 15 years for me to realise this.”
Gorman has now made a major lifestyle change. He’s moved to a small village near Bradford, and is currently studying nutrition at the University of Leeds. This, he says, is all part of a ‘journey’ towards taking control of his own health. Gorman spent a lot of time reading medical research, and understanding nutrition and lifestyle factors. He’s now on a crusade against the ‘drugs-first’ approach of the healthcare system.
“Our healthcare industry is broken. It focuses on the symptoms of disease, not the causes,” he says. “I spent a long time on prescription drugs that enabled me to carry on, but made the underlying health issues worse. I spend my time now researching nutrition and other lifestyle factors, to find better solutions.”
It’s not, he says, simply a case of taking escaping banking to spend more time with his family and have a better work life-balance.
“We are getting sicker as a nation, because we are not taking responsibility for our own health,” says Gorman. “We wait until we get sick, then rely on doctors and drugs, which can never truly restore health. It doesn’t have to be this way. By making simple changes to our diet and lifestyle we can prevent most illnesses. The implications of this are profound.”
If you want to find out more about James’ new journey, he’s blogging regularly here.