The recent death of an Intern at the Bank of America office in London has raised questions over what seems to be standard practice in many industries when it comes to extreme work conditions and long hours. While the employee’s death cannot be directly attributed to the long hours and he may have had an unknown underlying condition, it certainly begs the question of the health effect of such long work hours? In the wake of the Intern’s death, Bank of America has proactively taken steps to review these practices. Below are a few thoughts they’ll come up against.
These extreme work hours have become normal and somewhat expected for employees and interns starting out in certain industries including law, banking, and medicine to name a few. For the employee putting in the long work hours they are eager to learn and climb the corporate ladder. In doing so, they’re willing to do what it takes and work without complaint. The carrot at the end of the internship is the illustrious job offer or a promotion for those already in regular employment. Many employees working these long hours receive perks that lessen the pain, such as compensated meals, transportation to and from the office and gym memberships to take a break during the long workday. These little perks go a long way in making the employee feel that there is someone looking out for them. Employees who have chosen these professions have somewhat resigned themselves to this is what it’s going to be if they’re going to succeed.
For many managers of these interns and newer employees, there’s a feeling that “I paid my dues, I worked these hours, now it’s your turn and if you can’t cut it, you’re not right for the company.” Their expectations are high and memory short of when they were required to work these hours. The question is, what’s the price of these extreme work hours?
From an HR perspective, we can certainly say that employee productivity significantly decreases after 8-10 hours of work per day. If that’s the case, you can only imagine what happens when you hit the 12 plus hour mark. Work output and quality are going to suffer considerably. Employee morale may also sink. Burnout is high and many employees, who may otherwise be top performers, decide it’s not the job for them and quit. This results in a loss of high quality talent. Many managers view this as self-selection but there’s also a financial and business cost to turnover. Additionally, there are serious risks to employees. Working these long hours has been attributed to an increase in depression, heart attack and drug and alcohol use, which has it’s own associated risks.
While I don’t think Bank of America is going to uncover anything earth shattering they didn’t know, their probe into this death exposes a Human Resources issue that has long gone untouched. Dialogue around this topic will help minimize the risks. Some suggestions for both sides are:
Employees should know what is expected of them before accepting the job. Ask direct questions during the interview process about work hours and work expectations. Talk to recent interns or new hires about their experiences. Once you have all the facts, a more qualified determination can be made if the job is the right fit.
Employees should set themselves up to make life a little easier. Don’t live too far from the office. Think about setting up dry cleaning and/or grocery delivery. Some apartment buildings have concierge services to help with appointments that need to be scheduled during the day. Anything to relieve stress outside the office will be helpful.
Employers should be aware of the need for time off and the value it will bring. Employees will return refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.
Create an environment of open communication between the intern/employee and the Company.
Respect all employees.
It’s unrealistic to expect that the practice of extreme work hours is going to change, but risks can be minimized.