So, Brexit might force bankers currently based in London to relocate to NYC. Good luck with that. As someone who’s worked on Wall Street and in the City of London, I can tell you that one is a walk in the park while the other is a hike across a blistering desert. No prizes for guessing which is which.
In New York City, there’s no such thing as a sick day – especially in the banking industry. Deals are done, with or without you coughing over someone’s shoulder to see the thing through. You might want to hang out at home incapacitated, but in New York, you’ll be plagued with doubts if you do this. All those smiling, rosy-cheeked faces around the conference table, offering ideas to the Global Head of Sales who’s only in town today. In Manhattan, you don’t get sick.
London is different. The moment someone coughs at their desk, all ears twitch. Heads pop up. Fingers freeze on the keyboard. “Get that person outta here!” a manager bellows, to the deep relief of surrounding coworkers. When you’re in a bank in Britain, everyone’s happy to cover an ill colleague’s workload. Why? Because they know their sick day will also come. – They’ll also get to snooze the alarm, keep the curtains closed, and rest in bed guilt-free. After all, why spread the germs?
It’s not just sick days, it’s holidays too. Fresh out of college, I joined a bank in Manhattan. There, I received ten vacation days, but took only half. Even that felt like two days too much. Maybe I should’ve just taken what was mine – no one stopped me. It was simply that there was a silent culture, heavy on my shoulders as you went to click the “Leave” button. The fear was palpable: what happened if I clicked and my peers didn’t? What happened if I fell behind? You can smell the competition in New York. It’s a city that thrives on it. People flock there because they’re willing to work harder than anywhere else. They’ll push themselves to unrestricted heights. New York City has no ceiling; the buildings get taller every year.
It’s not exactly like this in London. The pace is gentler. There are plenty of government-granted, “Bank Holidays” (days when no one in the U.K. does any work). And when I switched from Manhattan to Canary Wharf I got 25 vacation days which I took – even though I was working for exactly the same employer.
Sure, there are upsides to the grueling pace of life in Manhattan. All those “weekend workdays” are generally better rewarded. Bonuses in New York are unlimited, while bonuses in London are currently capped by European regulators. Then again, salaries in London have been hiked to compensate, contributing to the sense that you’re paid in the City whether you perform or not.
What you really have in London is time. Time to contemplate and to muse about work life balance. In New York, the scale is definitely weighted towards work; in London Brits like to espouse life. Consider this as you drink your glass of ale and contemplate a post-Brexit move across the Atlantic: you might not have time to ponder it in future.
Mark Romeo is a former prime brokerage professional who’s worked in New York and London.