Stress Test

Maybe if the Occupy Wall Street folks heard about this, they’d go after another industry.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a research report from the University of Southern California on the perils of investment banking to your health. According to the study, a range of afflictions, from alcoholism and heart palpitations to eating disorders and a fiery temper, plagued the subjects of the research. In fact, every individual observed over a decade did develop a stress-related ailment within just a few years on the job.

The scientific validity of the study, which is due to see the light of day later this month, will surely be questioned. While nearly 270,000 people are in investment banking category, this initiative involved following only about two dozen closely over a lengthy period. The researcher essentially shadowed them regularly while they put in 80- to 120-hour workweeks. Within four years, the stress of the job was starting to take its toll. Some developed allergies and substance abuse issues, while others were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and thyroid disorders.

It’s easy to be dismissive of these issues—by its very nature, the field draws individuals who are competitive and aggressive. They know it will require a tremendous physical and emotional commitment. And if they do it right, they will be very well compensated.

However, the new study provides some sharp comparisons to another one promoted recently by the business cable channel CNBC. That one focused on the most stressful jobs of 2012, and in it investment banking ranks. . .nowhere.

The closest is ‘senior corporate executive,’ which clocks in at No. 8, just above ‘cabbie’ and ‘photojournalist.’ It’s also right below ‘Public Relations Executive.’ For the record, the top five are (in ascending order), ‘police officer,’ ‘military general’ (the best compensated on the list, with an average annual income of $196,300), ‘airline pilot’ and, at No. 1, ‘military soldier.’ In this time especially, it’s hard to dispute that last one.

Still, here’s a thought: What, in the business world of 2012, counts as a least stressful job?

CNBC has just such a list too, but this one will likely draw some skepticism—it cites tailors and hair stylists (clearly no one in New York during Fashion Week), dietitians, furniture upholsterers and, at No. 1, medical records technicians.

Maybe the sad reality is that in this cruel world, just about every occupation, in every working environment, involves a certain level of stress. In investment banking (and surely in some other fields) every aspect is magnified—the hours, the competitiveness, the compensation, the pressure, the overall stakes. So is the stress.

By the same token, each of us is unique—we confront many of the same issues, but we deal with different pain points in different ways. Many of us also pride ourselves on taking care of clients better than we take care of ourselves.

Maybe it’s time to find a better balance. Otherwise, any study analyzing the health effects of investment banking—which some see as the premise for a punch line—might have a foregone, and unhappy, conclusion.



Written by Staff