Investment banking is not for the faint-hearted, but rather it’s a sector that seems almost designed to create stress. Tight deadlines, aggressive targets and a competitive working environment – don’t expect to ever feel zen.
But stress can be a good thing. Investment banks have been pushing the need for resilience among their employees for years, and being able to handle stress makes you better equipped to deal with life’s challenges.
There are, of course, some pretty big downsides. I worked in investment banking for nearly 14 years, and saw its affects first hand – weaker immune system, high blood pressure, fatigue, depression and heart disease.
Unhealthy levels of stress are not only bad for you, they’re bad for your career. It hinders your thought-process and raises anxiety levels, neither of which endears you to clients, colleagues or managers. No one wants to give the impression they can’t cope.
I’ve given up on investment banking, and now run my own company that promotes empowerment and confidence over conflict. I’ve learned valuable ‘tricks’ to make the stress of working in banking more manageable. Part of my role involves mentoring young professionals on how to deal with stress. This is what I share with them,
Take just one minute to ‘go back to the body’. Choose a part of your body, any part (an elbow, a knee, anything) and focus entirely on that to the exclusion of everything else. Close your eyes if it is makes it easier and just think about that part of the body. This forces the mind to expel other thoughts and allows it to re-focus. This process acts as a ‘reboot’ for the mind. It’s often easier to do this away from the prying eyes of an open-plan office; lavatory cubicles are a good space for this, as they’re private and don’t arouse colleague curiosity.
One thing I’ve learned from having a screaming MD barking instructions or chastising me for something I have or haven’t done is to…humanise them.
Try to consider what may have led to their short fuse. Commissions falling? Redundancies looming? Computer keeps crashing? Or maybe something in their private life? The psychological term ‘helicoptering’ suggests looking from a high vantage point in order to gain a broader and more objective perspective. This helps to distance emotion and free up your rationality.
There’s also the ‘Parent-Adult-Child’ theory. When someone rounds on another it can seem like a chastisement or admonishment (‘parent’) or it can take the form of a tantrum or something petulant (‘child’).
It is easy in a situation such as this to react in a similar way. Don’t ‘get in the ring’ with them as the situation will only descend into a falling out or an argument – and probable career suicide for you.
The solution here is to bring the conversation back to the ‘adult’. Staying calm, try to address the issue constructively and impartially. Your MD then has no option but to reciprocate in the same way.
It’s always easier to take our frustrations out on those we outrank because the consequences are less serious. Again, the reason is likely to have nothing to do with the person on the receiving end.
It can be easy to feel guilty or regretful but it is important not to ruminate or let the situation linger. Find the earliest opportunity to apologise. This can also make you appear magnanimous, especially if it’s done in the open. Make it short but explain what it is you’re apologising for. A pre-emptive apology is almost always disarmingly effective. It also allows you to frame the context of the dispute, to end it and to move on.
A deal’s fallen through? Your stock recommendation is going against you? Don’t wallow. Start the day again. This can be done through something that is associated with uplifting or happy memories.
It can be through the reminder of something personal, such as a poem, keepsake or photograph. It can also be something work related; anything you feel was a mark of achievement. It just needs to be something that prevents you dwelling on the negative replacing it with a more positive mindset.
One key point to remember is that this happens to everyone – good days and bad days. Starting your day again allows you to regain the equilibrium needed to rekindle the good days.
The bottom line is that proactively managing stress has a self-perpetuating effect. We are less likely to become stressed in the first place. This will lead to a boost in our confidence, which is the foundation of every successful career.
Heidy Rehman is a former equity analyst who worked at Citigroup for nearly 14 years. She now runs am ethical and feminist clothing company called Rose & Willard
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