Hong Kong’s junior bankers want to step back, not lie flat
Chinese millennials are joining up to the lying flat movement as they reject long working hours – but bankers wont be joining them.
Chinese 20-somethings are rejecting the country’s 9-9-6 “hustle” culture, where people work 12 hours a day from 9am to 9pm six days a week, according to Business Insider.
Hong Kong governor Carrie Lam has expressed concern that the movement may spread to the City from the mainland, but there is little evidence to suggest that is happening in banking, where high levels of pay continue to attract the brightest and best.
“Graduates are very keen to enter banking and we don’t see any evidence of that changing,” says Olga Yung, regional director at Michael Page in Hong Kong. “They will put up with long hours for the opportunities on offer in terms of pay and career advancement.”
But the problem that banks face is how to retain junior and mid-level talent at a time when booming mergers and acquisitions and capital markets activity is placing pressure on those working in client-facing and execution roles. Many are leaving the industry, creating a vicious circle, where the depleted deal teams they leave behind face an even greater burden.
Banks are responding by hiring and increasing pay, but that may not be enough among associates and directors, who are growing increasingly tired of long hours and ‘face-time’ – working late nights as a way of showing commitment to the boss.
Yung adds: “Where we see a change is among some mid-level staff who are looking for more of a work-life balance. They will work from 9am to 7pm, but they don’t want to work beyond those hours or at weekends.”
Big investment banks are trying to make some of the aspects of flexible working established during the pandemic more permanent, but in reality, there is little difference between working late in the office, or being pulled onto a 2am Zoom call at home.
“Top tier firms are supportive of work place flexibility and work life sustainability,” says Yung. “The expectations for their employees to deliver does not change however, performance and productivity will still be the key measure.”
Top tier firms are banking on the fact that the pay, opportunities and brand prestige they offer will offset any attrition, but there is no doubt that bankers are increasingly deciding three or four years into their careers that they have the financial flexibility to look beyond working purely for the bonus check.
That could mean switching to the buyside, where hours are more predictable. But for those who want to stay in banking, there's also the potential to move to a Chinese firm. “Work life balance is more likely to be achieved when you work in a company which does not trade in US/ European hours, or if the role is not centered around deals,” says Yung.
The challenge is to choose your employer carefully. What you gain in time, you may lose in the frustration and stress of not knowing when you’ll paid, as traders and bankers at China Construction Bank International Securities are currently experiencing.
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