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How banking can ruin your body and mind

Après quelques années devant son écran (Photo credit: RichardAlan)

Après quelques années devant son écran (Photo credit: RichardAlan)

A week and a half into the New Year and you may be feeling inclined to forego abstinence in favour of indulgence as normality reasserts itself. For some, indulgence might mean illicit substances and alcohol, for others it will simply mean too much caffeine and too many late nights in the office. Either way, be warned.

Various studies and various anti-stress gurus identify investment banking as one of the most stressful careers there is. The industry extracts a harsh toll, both mentally and physically. “51% of men working in the City and aged over 40 suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED),” says Tim Bean, a self-described ‘executive longevity specialist’ and celebrity trainer who has worked with bankers at Lloyds and elsewhere. Where does this stat come from? “It’s widely reported,” suggests Bean, “And you can tell by the body language in a room full of bankers whenever I mention it.”

Male bankers drink too much coffee and too much alcohol, says Bean. Both substances suppress the production of testosterone and can cause ED, he claims. Bankers who drink too much caffeine can develop ‘moobs’, Bean cautions. “Caffeine robs men of their alpha maleness,” he says. “Men then get fatter, and fat produces its own estrogen; it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.”

For some bankers, caffeine addiction is the least of their problems. Don Serratt, a former banker and founder of the Lifeworks Community, a rehabilitation centre for addictions, says there’s always a peak in people asking him for help in the New Year. Serratt says he sees a lot of bankers, most of them aged between 25 and 45. “They primarily come in for cocaine addiction, but there are also problems with prescription medicines like benzodiazepines, which are prescribed for anxiety and are very addictive,” he says.

Bankers are resourceful, adds Serratt: they will often acquire large quantities of benzodiazepine from different private doctors to fuel their need. “Most people in banking are type A personalities, very driven and very ambitious and they don’t know what healthy limits are,” Serratt adds.

The preponderance of type A personalities in banking may be only part of the issue, however. An important study last year by Alexandra Michel, an ex-investment banking associate-turned assistant professor of management and organisation at the University of California, found that young bankers tend to abuse their bodies as they become socialized into working hard and trying to compete against others and themselves. “We have no use for managers. Our systems ensure that people control themselves, sometimes without knowing it. We just feedback to people how well they are doing and we leave it at that. We don’t even set targets. People compete against themselves,” one investment banking director told Michel.

The banking body-abuse cycle 

Michel studied two departments at two investment banks (one comprising corporate financiers, the other salespeople and traders) and conducted hundreds of interviews. She eventually concluded that bankers go through a cycle of bodily abuse until they either drop out or take control.

One to three years: Abuse In the first 1-3 years of a banking career, Michel discovered that bankers tend to repress their bodies. During this period, they work hard regardless of exhaustion/broken legs/eating disorders/alopecia and do whatever is required to get the job done. Michel came across one female banker in this phase who had fallen and broken her leg in two places on the way to a meeting. Although it changed colour and was painful, the banker ignored the symptoms until her meeting was over.

Four to six years: Breakdown After 4 years in a banking career, Michel said bankers’ bodies start fighting back. “Bankers developed embarrassing tics, such as nail biting, nose picking, or hair twirling,” she discovered, adding that the bankers she studied, ‘shopped, partied and consumed p*rnography’ to combat numbness, achieve control and escape. At this stage, however, the previous years of bodily abuse start to become an issue.  “It is an ongoing battle. My body caves in one way and I find another way  around it,” one banker told Michel.

Six years plus: Care and attention Bankers who make it through the body-meltdown phase were compelled to start taking note of their physical limitations and to start looking after themselves, said Michel. Interestingly, she suggested that this applied most effectively to bankers who’d spent six years or more working for a single firm: “Bankers had to be socialized before they could distance themselves.”

“The banker’s brain is just another organ of the body”

In line with Michel’s findings, Bean says many of the bankers he comes across tend to disregard their physical well-being. “The whole focus is on ability from the neck up, but you need to remember that the brain is just another organ of the body.”

Nor are people aware of the damage they are doing with excess caffeine, says Bean: “Most businesses have smoking cessation and alcohol management programmes, but they don’t have caffeine management programmes even though caffeine causes significant problems in the long run.”

As alpha male bankers drink more and more caffeine and suppress the production of testosterone, they lose their edge, says Bean. A kind of male menopause, which usually happens in the late 30s and early 40s as testosterone production lapses, is brought forwards. “We see it a lot earlier in corporate men,” he reflects.

Serratt says the bankers who come to him for addiction issues usually have underlying problems that need to be resolved. “It might be depression, anxiety, stress or simply poor quality of life – a lot of these people are working a million hours a week,” he says.


Comments (15)

  1. except it doesn’t (coffee reduce testosterone), just another old wives tale repeated by people who never bother to research what they preach – http://suppversity.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/only-real-not-decaffeinated-instant.html.

    obviously chronic stress, whether mental, through a bad diet, lack of normal social interaction or not using your body properly (excercise) will do all sorts of nasty crap to your body, including ED for men.

  2. Can vouch for a lot of this. I quit a soul-destroying desk job 4 months ago to become my own boss.

    Last summer was spent in a haze of caffeine, alcohol, partying… poor performance, escapism and deterioration of the mind and body went hand in hand.

    This year I’ve been at the gym 12 days running, had probably 6 alcoholic drinks and although working hard on my own business and projects (12 hrs/6 day weeks) my mind is clear and firing creativity, I feel healthy and young again. Most importantly, I don’t have to spend a large part of my life suppressing my ambitions and self, to further the gains of faceless stakeholders, all in the pursuit of unrealistic, unnecessary and largely unattainable expectations.

  3. Coffee doesn’t reduce testosterone. Pretty much makes this article obsolete.

  4. Does this article apply to people working in IBD only or S&T too?

    As an undergrad I’m amazed how few people see what this lifestyle does to you long term.

    Agreed with Freebird!

    Great Article! Reply
  5. Oi! Stop posting my pics on your website.

  6. Alexandra Michel is at the University of Southern California (USC), not the University of California.

  7. Life is stressful. Search for perfection is hard and it takes so much effort to care. Thus we march on even though we might not feel good. We should! We never always feel perfect, such is life. But, to try to accept that perfection is hard to reach, and maybe not necessary to reach… can be valuable but of course not appreciated by employers ;)

  8. Very true.Banking jobs are the most stressful jobs in the world.Acurate study about the number
    of years it takes to ruin your body,and mind.I prefer more medical opinions about coffee,and its
    effect on testoterone.But i think that bankers who manage to force themselfs to workout at least
    3 hours a week, eat healthy,and socialize a little with people from different industries can manage
    not to dropout.This plan will not probably save you if you have uncooperative,and a stress causing
    team of colleagues & managers.

  9. Ha…banks stressful? Pah…go try working in a bomb squad, or a job where you get bugger all pay and struggle with meeting your bills, or a job where all day you get abused by irate customers.

    The problem with young bankers, both male and female, is that they’re sold into a mythical culture of “you gotta work like the rest of these people to make it…if you don’t you’re a loser”.

    Those that enjoy such a banking culture, and have the energy will actually do well. The rest, the vast majority, are not necessarily suited for that culture. They will be the ones that struggle on to keep up, hitting the caffeine to keep their enthusiasm going, struggling to find the enthusiasm to learn and improve their banking skills, and accordingly struggling to finding the time to keep themselves in a healthy state.

    Eventually they will wonder what the hell they have spent their adult working life doing in such a place and will drop out. Unfortunately, without the understanding of the myth of it all, they will probably be pretty despondent and stressed.

    Those that are not suited, and wake up to the myth earlier, will hit the silk and go find a different living that really envigorates and energizes them.

    Some general observations based on first-hand experience…

  10. I must be working in the wrong banks. More than 6 years, not less than 50% of people sitting next to me go to gym 3-4 times a week, ride or run to work… and work long hours.

  11. Office jobs period will destroy your mind and body. I don’t care what you do. Most people who work in offices become boring cliche people after a while with back problems. They know this also. The office where I work has four women who weigh about 280 pounds each in management positions over me. Every single person is overweight with the exception of me and a woman who goes out for a smoke ten times a day. She is skinny and has a nice butt – however her face looks like a lizard.

    I just started this job. For several years I have worked out and do regular mountaineering in both summer and winter. However, after only three months at my des, I am struggling to find the energy to keep my workouts going on schedule. Many, many nights I feel like I am just going to collapse. I feel like I want to sleep for a year. I am not a party-er. I rarely if ever drink alcohol. I don’t do any drugs. In fact I do very little socializing because my life consists of working, sleeping and then frantically using what’s left of the time inbetween to clothe myself, eat and try to keep my body from falling to pieces. My diet has suffered without ever partaking in one round of the ritual “I bought 20 cakepops!” “Pizza” “It’s Girl Scout Cookie-time” or the bi-weekly donut meeting much relished by the 300-pound analyst crowd. I do not have the time to maintain a continually healthy routine. I HATE THIS LIFESTYLE. IT IS HIDEOUS. Let me out of here.

  12. Hey Lori,

    I totally understand where you are – I worked on Wall for 8 yrs while juggling an MBA part-time. Still worked out and tried to eat healthy but eventually suffered a collapsed lung (twice) before I was 30.

    3 years ago I left NYC and moved to THailand to follow my dream of fighting Muay Thai (kickboxing). Have done various online business ventures but now found my true-calling – coaching people into finding their true life-path and escaping this so called “American Dream” / rat-race. I’d love to help you. Please reach out to me directly: christopher.w.chiu@gmail.com


  13. after observing hundreds of friends and acquaintances, i think the moral of the story is to put your time in to make big bucks, be thrifty and move on to more fulfilling endeavors…before you crash and burn

  14. Lori I like your post. It really made me laugh because I have experienced the same thing however it wasn’t in the banking profession. It was in sales. I found that everyone was overweight and it was natural. Myself being a former athlete/cyclist it was and is hard to relate to a lot of people. Sure you have a nice Porsche but you have cankles and smell like an ash tray. I am still trying to find work at something I can do. For whatever reason I can’t sit in front of a screen all day. It gives me anxiety to sit in that setting. There are people who do the job and are good at it, but for whatever reason even if I were qualified I don’t think I could handle the stress or environment.

    My previous line of work was running a small labor intensive company. I could relate to the the article saying the year cycle of the persons body breaking down. My body broke down after 4 years doing hard manual labor. It is interesting how it also applies to physical jobs.

    Sometimes I really think that the value of the dollar and true success is in the work itself and the money is just secondary. A 2-3k income a month might produce a better quality of life/ exercise routine than a high paying position.

    My question is what is the answer? The non lethal jobs to health are 10-20 an hour jobs. However working for 10 an hour is also very hard financially which turns into mental stress which could lead to depression.

    I want answers people!

    ~A piece of chocolate in a box signing out.

    boxofchocolates Reply

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