If you're a junior in banking and you don't much like your job, we have some fairly bad news for you. - Things may not get better. Statistically, they could get even worse.
So say the respondents to our ongoing survey on the contentment of finance professionals, which has so far had nearly 4,000 responses globally. Instead of getting happier in your career as you move through 20s and 30s in finance, our responses suggest you will get less happy. But, you will become happier with your life instead.
The results are shown in the chart below. Peak happiness at work in financial services careers comes when you're aged 20-25. The average work-based happiness score out of 10 declines consistently thereafter. Conversely, 20-25 year-old finance professionals aren't that happy with their lives, but this score keeps going up the older they get.
What's going on here? Comments left on the survey offer a few pointers.
Aged 20-25, junior finance professionals have drunk of the corporate Kool-Aid and are all sorts of stoked about their jobs. "Great opportunities for continued development," says one junior in NYC. "Good team, interesting tasks, extremely steep learning curve," says a sell-side banker in Europe. "Interesting work with great people," says a junior at Lazard in London.
Among entry-level bankers at this age, there's a lot of talk about high pay and stimulating work, and although there are naysayers (the hours are too long, the work is too boring and the tasks are too meaningless), the sense of working hard and earning money with other bright people generally outweighs the downsides.
As time goes on, however, the halo starts to slip.
Aged 25-30, finance professionals are mostly still happy with their pay. However, some complain more vociferously about a lack of progress, poor lifestyle and the culture at work.
"There are long hours of work, I'm seated 12 hours a day, and there's no natural light... it's totally depressing," says one banker who claims to work for BNP Paribas in London. "The hours are still relatively long," says a buy-side professional in London. "We have unprotected weekends/holidays, a mediocre bonus, a counter-intuitive investment mindset, an increasingly less flexible organisational structure, and an inexperienced/immature class of analysts."
It's around this time that the need for even higher pay also starts to set in. - "My girlfriend is perfect but I want a bigger house and a bigger car," confesses a banker aged between 25 and 30, who says he works for Wells Fargo.
Once respondents hit 30, they're more likely to question their choice of career, their lack of free time and the insecurity of their working lives. "Banking is not my real passion. It's just a job that gets my bills payed and enables me to spend," says one, who says he'd rather work in sport. "At heart I’m an artist," says one NYC finance lawyer. "So not having a creative career is a bit soul crushing."
But it's beyond the age of 35 that things seem to come to ahead. At this point, respondents suggest the money is suddenly not enough. The job is suddenly less interesting, and there's an increasingly-present risk of redundancy. "Corporate politics are draining," says one respondent in this age bracket. "It's a pressurized environment in a rat race and an industry with a blame-culture," says another. "Every day it feels like there's a strong risk that I'll lose my job," complaints a banker at Citi. "There's a culture of up or out and all bulge bracket banks tend cut costs drastically during downturns."
For all that, however, more senior bankers are generally happier at home (although some still say they're exhausted and single). - Compared to younger respondents, most said they have great partners and great families and this compensates for life at work.
"I survived the global financial crisis. If you can't separate personal happiness and contentment from (volatile) work, you are in the wrong industry!" says portfolio manager at an asset management firm in London.
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