A happy banking career may seem inimical to a happy life at home. People in banking work notoriously long hours. Divorce is not unheard of. Nor is addiction (nor is divorce and addiction). Nor is the fetishization of fast cars.
But it’s not that bad. Plenty of people out there do combine a successful career in financial services with a happy life at home. We spoke to five people who’ve done it, or who specialize in advising others how to do it. This is what they said.
Negotiate and nurture your life at home
Don’t take your home life for granted and don’t expect that your spouse or partner will automatically accept the demands of your job.
“Negotiate your home life,” says Sarah Sparks, a former executive director at Goldman Sachs who now specializes in coaching financial services professionals. “Talk to your partner about how you plan to do this. It’s never too late to work out how you will work well together and look after each other. Also, take time to talk and take time to get away from it all – don’t forget to go on holiday together.”
Step back and create the space to think
“When I worked in banking, I had two nervous breakdowns,” said one of the ex-bankers we spoke to. “I was in a very senior position and it ended up that I was spending my entire time at work firefighting. I never took the time to step back and to think strategically about what was happening. In the end, people were talking to me and I literally couldn’t comprehend what they were saying.”
The banker in question had to retire and recover. In retrospect, he says his life at work and at home would have been better if he’d built “firebreaks” into his days. “I needed times to stop and think, to reflect upon how I dealt with events and individuals and to think about how I could have done things differently.”
It’s not about balancing work and home, it’s about alternating energizing and de-energizing tasks
Susan Treadgold, an executive coach and former equities salesperson at Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, says it’s a misnomer to think happiness is synonymous with work/life balance.
“It’s more complicated than simply balancing your home and work life,” says Treadgold, who has a husband and two young children. “McKinsey have got an excellent study on personal resource management (PRM). They suggest that you make an effort to understand the tasks and people that energize and de-energize you and that you then sequence them throughout the day.
“For example, don’t wait until the end of your working day to respond to emails (if that de-energizes you) and then walk straight in the door at home and put the rubbish out. You need to alternate the de-energizers with the energizers to avoid burn-out. When you come in from a stressful day at work, read a story to the children, or if you like cooking then first spend some time chopping vegetables,” she adds.
Employ third parties to relieve the pressure
If you can afford them, employ cleaners, nannies, gardeners and housekeepers. Treadgold says a worthwhile luxury is a virtual PA, or concierge service – which some banks will provide as part of their benefits packages.
“Virtual PAs can help you do things like booking flights or finding birthday presents,” she says. “On a day filled with meetings, I had a rental tenant call me and ask to store a bed. I was able to put it out to the virtual PA who found the prices of storage in London in 10 mins and established it would cost more to store the bed for a year than to buy a new one.”
Set time aside for the people you love
“Make some special times in your home life,” says Treadgold. “I have a son and a daughter and I have special mummy times with them every week. They’re pretty much set in stone and they know that will be a time they get with me. But hey – urgent things can and do sometimes pop up – and when they do I always make sure that we reschedule as opposed to cancel our time together!”
Find real role models and learn from them
Andre Sokol is a former MD at UBS and the founder of the boutique M&A firm Akira Partners. He likens managing stress to playing tennis – you have to practice to get good at it. Learn the technique from the experts around you.
“The thing with banking is that when you look around you see a lot of people whom you admire, but far fewer whom you actually consider role models whose lives you would like to lead,” says Sokol. “If you can, try to find these role models and learn from them. The sad thing about investment banking is that it’s filled with people who are incredibly smart but often miserable and unhappy. A small minority get a real buzz out of it – look at what makes their lives work.”
Accept that things will be tough. Be stoical
“Accept that you are working in a culture that can be very difficult to cope with,” says another senior M&A banker, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If you’re in the office at 9pm and you think you can leave in 15 minutes and see your girlfriend or wife, but you end up staying until midnight it will be far harder to deal with than if you expect to leave at midnight from outset.”
Marry someone who accepts you for what you are – banking job and all
In his book on young Wall Streeters, journalist Kevin Roose details the problems young bankers have when they try balancing pre-existing relationships with the demands of a 100 hour a week job. However, Joris Luyendijk, the Dutch anthropologist, says banking can become a toxic career if all your non-banking friends and partners fall away: “You end up in a social bubble filled with people who all think the same way,” he claims.
The senior M&A banker says his relationship worked out because he married a university friend who was his flat mate during the analyst years. “We knew each other already, and she saw me working hard and knew that it was part of my job and that the long hours were no reflection on whether or not I wanted to spend time with her. She understood me as a person and she knew what she was getting into.”
Don’t have children too young
It’s harder for a woman, but if you have children as an associate or low-level VP, you will be making life more difficult for yourself.
“I waited until I was an MD,” says the (male) banker we spoke to. “It was much less stressful that way.”