Investment banking hard on the mind and body

Adriene Hill Feb 15, 2012

Adriene Hill: Investment bankers work long days — really, really long days. And new research shows it takes a toll on their brains and their bodies.

USC professor Alexandra Michel has spent ten years studying the habits of investment bankers and she joins us now. Good morning.

Alexandra Michel: Good morning.

Hill: So tell me what did you learn about the working life of bankers?

Michel: Well the important thing I learned does not only apply to bankers — it applies to all kinds of knowledge workers: lawyers, and software engineers. And these are people who are increasingly important in our knowledge-based economy. And we think about that kind of work as thinking for a living, but what I found is that the body plays an immensely important role in the kind of judgment you have; the kind of ethical sensitivity you can display.

Hill: Now I understand at some point you bankers’ bodies just don’t want to play along with the hours they’re being asked to give — is that right?

Michel: Yeah, that’s right. So these people work 80, 100, sometimes 120 hours a week, and that harms your body. But it doesn’t only harm your body; it impedes your ability to think and to be creative.

Hill: How does using your body for this many hours a week of work actually affect your judgment? What did you find?

Michel: Well I found that judgment declines. And I also want to point out that technical skill, that remains high. But judgment — things like when junior people approach you — your patience declines just a little bit. So things like that suffer, and creativity suffers. But what we need in this economy is people who come up with new recipes, with new insights. And if your body’s completely depleted, you can’t do that.

Hill: Professor Michel, thank you so much.

Michel: Thanks for your time, bye bye.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.