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Monday, March 17, 2014

Bank Intern Dies After Working 72 Hours in a Row

Posted by on Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 12:24 PM

Details from the Guardian:

Moritz Erhardt, the 21-year-old Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern who was found dead in a shower at his London flat after working for 72 hours in a row, died of an epileptic seizure, an inquest has found.

The coroner Mary Hassell said fatigue could have been a trigger, but there was no proof of this and it was possible that the seizure was something that just happened.

Erhardt, from south-west Germany, was found dead in a shower cubicle at his temporary accommodation in east London in August. The death of the dedicated student as well as reports of extreme working habits in investment bank led to a debate about a culture that effectively forces interns into working 100-hour weeks in an attempt to break into the lucrative industry.

Erhardt was a week from completing a placement at Bank of America Merrill Lynch's London offices, and was due to be offered a job at the bank.

The whole thing is disturbing: Interns giving away their labor to businesses that turn around and sell it*; the fact that internships (especially time-intensive ones) are heavily weighted in favor of those who already have access to wealth, lowering the possibility of wealth mobility; even the possibility that a bank has just worked a 21 year-old intern to death. (The corner was cautious and inconclusive, of course—but it's not hard to imagine putting a thumb on the scales for "inconclusive" with the massive bank and the legal ramifications hanging in the balance.)

But the most disturbing part of the story comes at the very end:

One City intern, who wanted to be known only as Alex, told the Guardian at the time of Erhardt's death that working for more than 100 hours was normal, but said that despite the pressures he and other interns enjoyed the experience.

"On average, I get four hours' sleep about 70% of the time … [but] there are also days with eight hours of sleep," Alex said. "Work-life balance is bad. We all know this going in. I guess that's the deal with most entry-level jobs these days."

He added that despite the amount of time spent in the office, he "enjoyed it greatly".

"That's the deal" these days—give away your labor, give away your "free time," let them sell it at a massive markup, and enjoy it.

The story also reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin. What does the imp offer the woman? To make the labor she gives away more productive. What does he want in exchange? Her child.

Sounds like a rotten deal, doesn't it?

* This is something I can't help thinking about when business owners, even small-business owners say: "I create jobs! My employees need me! I'm doing all my employees a favor!"

That's not actually true.

Your employees are selling you their labor, which you sell at a markup, and you can have nice things: nice cars, nice condos, trips to tropical beaches, and so on. (Or at least that's the goal.) Really, your employees are doing you a favor. If you can't run a business that pays its (very generous) employees a fair wage, maybe you're not cut out for business.


Comments (14) RSS

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JonnoN 1
I find it hard to muster any sympathy for junior bankers. They just want to grow up so they can be the ones doing the fucking over.
Posted by JonnoN on March 17, 2014 at 12:53 PM · Report this
Of course, the Stranger has NEVER had unpaid dick, 'interns'.
Posted by Indeed on March 17, 2014 at 12:54 PM · Report this
seatackled 3
"Charles? Why, we don't have a Charles at this newspaper."

(I do like the way Brendan framed the commentary. For those business owners, the store is just one big happy family till it comes time to pay their employees.)
Posted by seatackled on March 17, 2014 at 12:57 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 4
Of course the intern is going to say, on record, that he enjoys the experience. He's not going to sabotage his own work by telling his future employers what he truly thinks of them.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on March 17, 2014 at 1:01 PM · Report this
seandr 5
"I'm doing all my employees a favor!"

Wow, that straw man you quoted sure is an asshole.

If you can't run a business that pays its (very generous) employees a fair wage, maybe you're not cut out for business.

I'll file that one right next to "If you don't think you're getting paid enough, go find another job."
Posted by seandr on March 17, 2014 at 1:25 PM · Report this
@1 summed it up pretty well. Given the massive trove of wealth at the end of that particular rainbow, it's not at all surprising that people compete for it by overworking themselves.
Posted by unpaid reader on March 17, 2014 at 1:31 PM · Report this
fletc3her 7
I've certainly known employers and managers who felt they were doing me a favor by giving me a job. Even the words suggest a "gift" rather than an equal exchange of money for labor.

Professional finance is a culture of incredibly successful conmen. It isn't too surprising that hazing is rampant. After all, once you get through hell year or whatever you are going to be fabulously wealthy.
Posted by fletc3her on March 17, 2014 at 1:38 PM · Report this
seatackled 8
@1, @6

But it's not just the bankers who do this. Don't universities say that they're doing their graduate teaching assistants a favor by "training" them to teach? It's necessary experience, but it's also underpaid labor that is cheaper than hiring permanent faculty. And did we see that story a couple of weeks ago about minor league baseball players? There are the hot prospects who get their signing bonuses, but the typical minor leaguer makes something like $7000 or maybe $10,000 during the season. And in Oakland, there's a lawsuit underway by one of the Raiders cheerleaders (joined by at least on more cheerleader, last I heard) suing the team for violating labor laws. Detractors say that the cheerleaders are there by choice and benefit from simply having the opportunity.
Posted by seatackled on March 17, 2014 at 1:46 PM · Report this
seandr 9
Interns giving away their labor to businesses that turn around and sell it

Giving away their labor? I realize that's how things work at The Stranger, but in the financial industry, these kids are making far more than you, Brendan.

give away your labor, give away your "free time," let them sell it at a massive markup, and enjoy it.

Your damn right he enjoys it - he's on track to become a multi-millionaire while he's still in his 30's. They don't just hand out obscenely lucrative finance jobs to every asshole who wanders in off the street. It's a fucking dog fight to get to the position where you can cheat the rest of the world out of its money. In this case, one of the dogs died.

Sorry, this post is all FAIL.
Posted by seandr on March 17, 2014 at 1:48 PM · Report this
treacle 10
What sort of black market stimulants was this kid using to stay awake for 72 hours at a stretch?, I wonder. Newer "research chemicals"? Or the older stuff?
Posted by treacle on March 17, 2014 at 1:51 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 11
What is this, old news day? Isn't this story about 120 years old?
Posted by MacCrocodile on March 17, 2014 at 1:54 PM · Report this
I'm calling bullshit.

The Stranger didn't pay thier interns AT ALL for OVER twenty god damned years. And you never said shit about it, Kiley. Not once.
Posted by tkc on March 17, 2014 at 2:22 PM · Report this
Gus 13
Bank Interns really should unionize, to prevent this abuse.
Posted by Gus on March 17, 2014 at 3:11 PM · Report this
Somehow I doubt that The Stranger's unpaid interns are working anything remotely resembling 100 hour weeks.

These internships in finance, investment, accounting, consulting are all unpaid or underpaid, with immense demands on your personal resources and strength. Chances are that you will be hired if you can nab the internship (which is difficult enough--everyone around you will be competing for a tiny number of seats, and the internships are located in expensive cities, so even if it's paid, you probably can't afford it) and complete it (don't get sick, and don't have any family members die, and don't have any relationships).
Posted by Cad in Decadent on March 18, 2014 at 6:17 AM · Report this

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