Future Bankers and the Work/Life Balance Spiderweb

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But 'getting a life' is exactly what these guys will have to achieve when they leave the cocoon of academe. Whether or not that life is the one they envisage or hope for themselves, remains to be seen.

Today's professionals have been plagued with the work/life balance puzzle for over a decade. The business world pays little more than lip service to the notion that when hiring people, those people are entitled to an existence outside the workplace. Long hours are de rigeur. Shining your seat at a desk for hours on end, day after day, is the reality for many a banker, lawyer or accountant.

At a recent investment banking conference attended by dozens of superstar youngsters exploring future career options, a recurring theme was their fervent horror of a working week which can embrace over 100 hours' of desk time. The students were united in their determination to reject a work world which precludes outside interests. Never the twain shall meet...

Is this the future for employers? Will businesses wake up and take note of the great disdain with which their current work practices are viewed by the next generation of professionals?

Will they risk losing the best and the brightest because the work world they provide just isn't one in which your leisure time is considered an important counterbalance to your office life? Will they recognise that employing someone doesn't give them ownership of that person, body and soul?

I have my doubts. While extracting their pound of flesh, workplace cultures at many a firm encourage presenteeism but maybe not productivity (and in my humble opinion, workers can't possibly be productive in the long term if they're putting in sixteen hour days... but employers don't seem to have caught on to this).

It's a big issue, and not just for the next generation. Many of today's professionals feel trapped in a world where being physically present at the office is the only way that commitment is measured by managers, irrespective of productivity or effectiveness.

I'm firmly with the students on this. No more outsourcing your real world so that you are freed up for your working life, to the detriment of your family, friends, and mental health. I'll put money on it that workplace stress would decline dramatically if there was a genuine buy-in by business to work/life balance. Think of the cost saving to employers if that takes place.

And today's graduates are wonderfully passionate in rejecting the prospect of an existence which chains them to their office for hours on end, day in, day out.

The responses by the adult speakers at the conference usually involved wry humor: "One solution is sleep deprivation," said one. "Don't try and divide a hundred-hour week into five days - try seven," said another. The students were unimpressed.

The work/life questions weren't posed by beer-swilling undergraduates who sleep till lunchtime and watch daytime TV at all hours - these are every parent's dream: straight A's, enthusiasm for learning and a highly tuned work ethic. But they all prize their 'time out' and don't want to sacrifice it on the altar of employment.

So what does the future hold? Do I believe that the youngsters will prevail, and force a sea-change onto employers? Or will they take up their positions, bright-eyed and optimistic, with every good intention of keeping their lives balanced, then gradually get trapped in the corporate vortex?

I'll give a word of caution from the natural world. The Goliath Birdeater Tarantula relishes its diet of small birds à la carte. Business-life creep is not unlike a spider web, with hapless workers wriggling in the sticky toils and enmeshed in the working day. Bearing in mind that spider's web filament is stronger, strand for strand, than steel cable, I fear these fledgling professionals will have a struggle to escape the workplace web...

Idealism and youthful insouciance aside, I hope the young bankers of tomorrow succeed in maintaining their out-of-hours existence, for their benefit as well as ours.

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