Kelvinwright's Blog

postmodern thoughts

Slaves in the City

dogbert_work_life_balance When reports emerged of the death of a 21 year-old Bank intern, after working a rumoured 21 hour shift three days running, people were shocked. The Independent reported that the intern, Moritz Erhardt, was caught on what is known in the City as the “Magic Roundabout”, a process whereby a taxi takes interns home and waits outside whilst they shower and change, before driving them back to the office to begin another day. *


My final year degree thesis explored the effects of workplace stress on both the organisation and the employees. So why in the 21st century is the culture of long hours not only still prevalent, but accepted? How is it possible that whilst debate of what the work-life balance means, goes on, there are those companies or sectors that quite literally work their employees to death?


In an age of financial crisis, stalled economic growth, and high unemployment, do employees still have a right to demand the work-life balance? Should they just be grateful to have a job? Should employees thank their employers for a steady salary and accept the pressures and long hours that seem to accompany a postmodern job? In an age of what is often perceived as reduced workers’ rights in some western countries, not to mention many emerging ones, should the work-life balance be denounced as a utopian pipe dream?


In the last few months I have found myself in conversation with several professionals making significant climbs up the corporate ladder, now too high to fall, but still a few rungs from the Board of Directors. One told me that he was continually working 12 hour days, and then when he went home, if he wasn’t tapping away on his work Blackberry then he was at his work laptop, replying to the emails that meetings and the demands of being the boss didn’t allow him. He told me: “The Director has put a lot of faith in me. He’s invested in me. I can’t fail him. I can’t let him down.” A few weeks ago the employee went on his two week summer holiday, and broke down in tears on the first day in front of his wife and children. He told me that he cried for five hours straight to the point where they were about to take him to hospital.


I recalled his words: The Director has invested a lot in me – I can’t let him down. I told him, “Your wife and children have also invested a lot in you. Should you let them down?” Often that is where the work-life balance is cut off. Many people think nothing of telling their children or partner to shut up, whilst they continue working. But how many switch their Blackberry off to watch their children grow up? How many don’t open their laptop, in order to spend quality time with their partner?


I saw a Spanish news report on the culture of long hours in the country, 2 hour lunch breaks and people in offices until after 9pm. It was ridiculous, and the Spanish reported commented as such. Spain has long been shown to be one of the least productive nations, whilst working the most hours. That conversation is for another blog, but clearly there is something wrong.


For now, I’ll leave you with a few questions: Is this really the life you want? Will you be proud of all you’ve achieved professionally and personally when you retire? Will you look back in 20 years on what you are doing now and be pleased? If not, then change it, retake control of your life, and become the owner of your own destiny.


Meanwhile, the banking and consultancy sectors, among others, need to take a very long, hard look at themselves (they won’t by the way). Not letting staff rest properly is detrimental to their health, it is detrimental to productivity, and ultimately to the profit line and to the shareholder.


* article:


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September 21, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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