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You're a workaholic in banking. What's so wrong with that?

Will workaholism ruin your family Christmas?

Are you a workaholic? Or are you just passionate about your job and compelled to work 80 hours a week by the culture of the firm you work for? With Christmas and mandatory time-off fast approaching, it's worth asking why the hell you work so hard. And what the effects of that are on your family, especially if you're a woman.

Academically speaking, workaholism is distinct from the love of work. In a new book on the subject, academics from the University of Georgia draw on an established definition of workaholism as, “an internal drive to work, in which an individual is consumed with thoughts and feelings about work, and he/she spends excessive time working and/or thinking about work (even when it is not required of them) to the exclusion of other important life roles.” Workaholics are overwhelmed by the sensation that they should be working. This isn't the same as working because you love it so. Ultimately, however, the effects on life outside work will be similar.

The Georgia-based academics point to various studies suggesting that workaholism is detrimental to a happy family life. They also conducted their own research which showed that female workaholics have a worse time of it at home than their male counterparts. Looking at 215 women with an average age of 45, they found that[efc_twitter text=" women who 'test positive' for workaholism are more likely to suffer from 'home anxiety', 'home anger' and 'home disappointment' than women who don't"]. This creates a vicious circle: stress at home generates stress at work, which leads to stress at home and so on. Male workaholics don't suffer in the same way, say the academics: in working hard, they're fulfilling society's expectations of male providers. Female workaholics, on the other hand, are more likely to be chastised for failing to fulfill their prescribed family role and they experience all sorts of 'societal guilt' as a result.

What does this mean for compulsively hardworking bankers? And especially compulsively hardworking female bankers? One (female) ex-senior M&A banker told us it's all a load of piffle. "The women who make it in banking have incredibly high standards and manage to juggle everything. If they're still in the game, they're extremely good and they manage to work it all out." Do they have happy home lives? "That's the million dollar question," she admitted.

Louisa Symington-Mills, an ex-analyst at Jefferies and founder of networking group City Mothers & City Fathers, said men and women in finance are both beset by issues resulting from crazy working hours. But those issues are distinct for each gender, she added. Women want to work flexibly, but fear that in doing so they'll damage their prospects for promotion. Men want to work flexibly, but fear they'll be seen as wimping out by colleagues. The outcomes (a sudden absence of promotions)  may be similar, but the impetus is different - men are more driven by workplace machismo.

Heather McGregor, former banker, headhunter, TV personality and author, said workaholism isn't gender specific. "In banking, you will find male workaholics and you will find female workaholics. The big issue is that women have a lot more to deal with outside work. Unless she's single with no children, the woman who works 75 hours a week has a lot more do at home than the man." This issue hasn't escaped 20-something female analysts. "I was on a panel at the Deutsche Bank women's conference a few years ago and[efc_twitter text=" a woman in the audience said she got up at 5.30am and returned at 8pm and asked how she'd ever be able to have children"]," McGregor added.

Interestingly, women's workaholism levers-up with age, whereas men's lapses. Amassed academic studies suggest that a 45 year-old woman is more likely to be a workaholic than her 25 year-old report, but that the 25 year-old man is likely to work harder than his 45-year old boss. This is curious in light of studies showing that the differential between men's pay and women's pay increases significantly with age in banking and accounting. Who cares if you're a female workaholic once your children have moved on? Except that you may be working far harder, for far less money, than your relaxed male counterparts. Something does seem to be wrong when you look at it like that.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Sh
    Shock, surprise
    17 December 2014

    "a woman in the audience said she got up at 5.30am and returned at 8pm and asked how she'd ever be able to have children" - this. Women are encouraged to enter high finance and firms are trying to increase gender diversity. Result: creating over-worked, unhappy, childless women. There's no million dollar question.

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