"My banker husband has much better work boundaries than I did"
When coach Mandy Lehto worked in banking, it did not end well. Lehto, who has a PhD from the University of Cambridge, spent a couple of years as a director of fixed income sales at a European bank in London before the financial crisis. She had two young children at the time and after burning out and collapsing in a gym, she told the Times it took her a year to recover. Much of that time was spent lying in bed.
Fast-forward over a decade, and Lehto has extricated herself from banking and has a new career as an executive coach. Her husband, however, is still working in finance and is thriving. Lehto says he is much more disciplined about keeping work in its box than she ever was.
"My husband works in the City and he works very long hours, but he's very boundaried about it," says Lehto. "He doesn't identify with what he does and isn't entirely consumed by his career." What does this mean in practice? "He has interests outside of work. He reads books, he listens to podcasts that have nothing to do with his job..." It's a strategy pursued by other men in the industry - Goldman Sachs partner, Brian Robinson, has described how even though he works 12-hour days he always makes time for exercise and for nature and focuses on "birds and trees" on a walk home.
Anecdotally, this is something that some senior women in finance struggle with. Lucy Puttergill, a former JPMorgan VP who now coaches a lot of female bankers, says many of her female clients over-identify with their jobs, particularly if they're single. There's a tendency for women in their 30s and 40s to "hide" in their demanding jobs to compensate for deficiencies in their life outside work, says Puttergill. But this simply stores up problems down the road.
The concept of "burnout" is real but is bandied around too freely, says Puttergill. True burnout isn't a passing urge to watch Netflix instead of working, but a period of collapse akin to Lehto's experience. "People in burnout can end up in bed for months," she says. "It's interwoven with depression and is almost as if your bod says 'Stop!' The symptoms are physical."
Neither men nor women in banking want to get to this stage, and both Puttergill and Lehto are clear on the best avoidance tactics: boundaries; defining yourself as more than the job.
"There's a tendency in banking to over-give and overextend yourself," says Puttergill. "People will come to me and say they're thinking of leaving the industry, but often I will work with them and we will get to a place where they are able to put up boundaries that prevent them working too much."
Erecting those boundaries requires a shift in mindset. The external validation from work fills a void in ourselves, says Lehto. People in banking tend to be "overachievers" and "over givers" and that this stems from insecurity and the need to make oneself indispensable by "depleting" oneself. The people who don't do this are realists, she says: "They have no delusion that they are replaceable. There is an awareness that I am a person doing a job, but I also have these roles in my life."
Are women more likely to be over-givers and men more likely to be realists? Arguably yes. A study of men and women at a major strategy consulting firm in 2015 found that men were more comfortable cutting corners to conserve personal time. "Many men found unobtrusive, under-the-radar ways to alter the structure of their work," said the study's author. While female consultants tried and failed to commit to the 80-hour weeks expected of them, and ultimately requested easier roles, male consultants found workarounds which enabled them to appear to work long hours, but to actually work manageable 50-60 hour weeks. Famously, one senior male consultant spent a week skiing on company time while taking client calls in the mornings and evenings.
Lehto's husband doesn't do this. She's keen to stress that he works long hours, but that he also "sustains himself." He takes his lunch break. He goes to the gym. "It's about the drip, drip, drip of micro habits that sustain and nurture the self," she says. "It's not about slacking, it's about boundaries and creating the space that means you get away from work instead of allowing it to amorphously spread across the whole day until the sustaining things fall away."
Women (and men) in banking need to practice this self-care. When Lehto burned out, her husband had to carry everything. "My husband worked in the City and would come home, make dinner and bathe the children," she told the Times. "If recovery is long, like mine, this is unsustainable..."
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