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Investment Banking Hours: What to Expect and How to Manage Work-Life Balance

Work life balance

Investment banking is not exactly known for its healthy “work-life balance”. Everybody remotely interested in finance knows working in IB involves very long hours, demanding work, last minute tasks, and countless “pls fix” from your beloved managers. 

The question is: how do you keep your sanity in this ocean of madness? Is it even possible to have a decent “work-life balance” when working in IB? 

In this article, I explain what type of lifestyle you can reasonably expect in the early years of your IB career, and I share some tips to help you find balance between work and life (even though I hate this distinction, as I believe work is part of life and vice-versa…)

How many hours will you really work in Investment Banking?

Is it really as bad as they say? Are you going to work 105 hours per week and eat Uber Eats at your desk in 15 minute lunch breaks every single day? 

Fortunately, the reality is a bit different. As usual, people love turning sensational anecdotes into general truths… The reality is that 100+ hours per week may occur during extraordinarily busy periods (ex: critical moments of an M&A deal), but they are not the norm.

Most of the time, you will work 70-80 hours per week on average, and you may expect to work on Saturdays from time to time. That’s about 12-14 hours a day on average. Sure, it’s intense, but nothing unmanageable for an ambitious, healthy young grad in his twenties.

Your workload will vary depending on several factors, including: 

  • The reputation of your employer. Prestigious banks tend to have stricter quality standards that require a particular amount of care 
  • The city you’re in. You’ll most likely have more work to do (and hence make longer hours) if you’re working in London compared to a small regional office.
  • The dealflow of your team
  • The number of interns/analysts you have in your team

Investment banks keep saying that they want to improve the work-life balance of their employees to improve their image, but they’ve been saying that for the past 20 years, and it never really changed. 

The reality of the job (heavy workload, extremely tight deadlines, very high quality standards) always trumps the idealistic aspirations of IB top executives and HR professionals

No one cares about work-life balance when you’re fiercely competing against JP Morgan and seven other top banks to secure a $46 billion M&A deal… So don’t expect some major change anytime soon.

Why are the hours so long?
Long hours

There are several factors that explain the grueling hours of investment banking:

  • Unpredictable work demands: some new client requests may pop up at the last minute, in which case the MD might tell the team to finish a task late in the evening, easily prolonging the workday by a few hours.
  • Limited manpower: the number of people working in an IB team is often limited on purpose to keep everyone accountable. Hiring more people to deal with the heavy workload would not solve the problem, because many tasks of the job cannot be divided. For instance, building a model and linking financial statements is not something that can be done by three people at the same time, it needs to be done by one single brain due to the complexity of the task. 
  • Cultural reasons: truth be told, there is also a culture of “presenteeism” in investment banking that has endured for generations. “Pulling all nighters” is almost a rite of passage that junior investment bankers must go through, because senior bankers did the same when they were young. This doesn’t explain everything of course, but it definitely contributes to explain why bankers tend to stay so long at their desk.
Tips to manage your work-life balance as an investment banker (without going crazy)
Tips for work life balancing
Tip #1: embrace your absence of control

The harsh reality of IB is that you have almost no control over your working hours. Your MD or VP will give you work at unexpected times, sometimes at 7pm, right when you’re about to leave the desk, and there is nothing you can do about it. 

It’s not like you could say: “Hey man, thanks but no thanks. I’m watching The Kardashians with my girlfriend tonight. Bye.” I mean, you could try, but not sure if it would be beneficial for your career… 

In short, you don’t have any control over your own time. People above you decide how much you get to work. That’s one of the reasons why you get paid so well: you need to be available for work at any time. 

If you want to feel less overwhelmed as an investment banker, you need to accept this fact and surrender to reality. It won’t make the hours any easier, but at least you’ll feel less frustrated when the MD asks you to do a 46-slide PPT presentation at 8pm, for tomorrow morning…

Tip #2: If you can work from home, take advantage of it to carve out some free time

If you can, work from home. The problem with being at the office is that sometimes, you have nothing to do, and you can’t go anywhere. If you work from home, downtime can be used more effectively. 

I know that not all banks are offering WFH options. Some of them can be inflexible. But if you have this option, make the most of it. Wake up earlier than you would normally do, and try to get as much done as possible by 12am. 

If you’ve been exceptionally productive in the morning, then you can take time for yourself in the afternoon – walking the dog, grabbing a coffee, meeting a friend. Just when you do this, make sure to always have your phone and computer with you, so that if there is urgent work to do or if your boss sends you a request via email, you can be responsive if needed.

Tip #3: Go out at least once a week with your friends

Even a 30-minute coffee with your best friends can make a big difference in your overall well-being – especially when you’re under pressure during the whole week. I know it sounds obvious, but trust me, spending some good time with friends is extremely important to keep your mind healthy. 

You’ll get back to work with more energy and a better mood. If you can’t meet physically, do calls at the very least. But never estimate the amazing benefits of true friendship. Even with brutal hours, you can and should always find time for your friends. If you don’t have any friends, make some. 

Tip #4: Take pride in the grind

Instead of seeing hard work as a chore, see hard work as an honor. Thousands of people would kill to be in your position. There is a unique feeling of pride in the idea of working more than 99% of the population. 

While most people are chilling at home after 5pm, you’re grinding at work, getting things done. You’re burning the midnight oil with equally industrious people. The sense of camaraderie can be very strong in IB, especially in the most intense periods. 

If you embrace this mindset, you may forge valuable friendships with your coworkers. And it may help you find your job more meaningful, despite the brutal hours.


A word about the author

Aurelian Tran is the founder of Alpha Lane and an ex-Goldman Sachs analyst who has spent 4+ years working in the investment banking industry.

He founded Alpha Lane to help students and young professionals achieve their highest professional ambitions, by securing offers at top-tier financial institutions.