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Work Life Balance


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Chosen Article: Bank intern who died after 'working for 72 hours' felt pressure to excel. Written by Victoria Ward & Anna Hill, (2013).

An intern who died after allegedly working for 72 hours straight at a leading Citybank had admitted that he felt “pressurised” to succeed.
Moritz Erhardt, 21, was found dead as he neared the end of a gruelling seven-week placement with the Bank of America Merrill Lynch's (BAML) investment bank division.

He collapsed in the shower in his student flat in East London amid claims that he had worked throughout the night eight times in two weeks in a bid to impress company bosses, returning home at 6am on three consecutive days. It has been claimed he suffered an epileptic fit.

In an online profile, Mr Erhardt, from Germany, revealed that he had developed a tendency to be “over ambitious” at an early age.
He said: “I have grown up in a family that expected me, in whatever respect, to excel in life. By implication, I felt somehow pressurised. However, I did not intend to belie my parents’ expectations.
“Therefore, I have become a highly competitive and ambitious nature from early on.”
Members of internet message boards used by City staff claimed that other interns had been ordered not to discuss Mr Erhardt’s death.

One poster wrote: “One of the best interns in IBD BAML — 3 all nighters — didn’t turn up, colleagues went to find him.”

Another claimed that someone who worked on the same floor as Mr Erhardt had told him: “He was working very, very, very long hours (as in 4 days spent almost without sleeping).”

One intern who lived in his block said: “Apparently he pulled eight all-nighters in two weeks. They get you working crazy hours and maybe it was just too much for him in the end.”

Colleagues described him as a “superstar” who worked very hard, was very focused and had been “tipped for greatness”.

Scotland Yard insisted that it was not treating the death as suspicious and the local coroner was awaiting the results of a post-mortem before deciding whether to open a formal inquest.

A Bank of America spokesman refused to discuss the claims about Mr Erhardt’s working hours but admitted that the bank would “learn” from his death.

John McIvor, head of international communications, said: “There is an order of process here. We are making sure our interns are fine and we will then have to consider what the lessons are from this. If there are things to be learnt we will see what we can do.”

The bank said in a statement: “He was popular amongst his peers and was a highly diligent intern at our company with a promising future.“Our first thoughts are with his family and we send our condolences to them at this difficult time.”

Mr Erhardt, who is understood to have been paid around £6,000 for the internship, was discovered last Thursday by a flatmate at Claredale House in Bethnal Green. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him but he was declared dead at the scene.

His parents were understood to be travelling to London from their home in Freiburg, near the Swiss border.

Mr Erhardt studied business administration as an exchange student at the prestigious University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business before attending WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar, Germany, from which he was due to graduate next year.

He had already completed placements at KPMG Consulting, Morgan Stanley, and in Deutsche Bank’s corporate finance division and wanted to work in strategy consulting.

In his online profile, he said he wanted to help build a fairer, more peaceful and more humane world, adding: “That is what my character is all about.”

He said: “With respect to my performance in school, I was striving for excellence and trying to be the best all the time.

“My primary goal consists of the pursuit of continuous improvement and the desire to strive for excellence. I want to make the very best out of everything that comes my way.”

Organisational Details

The Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) is one of the world’s largest financial institutions who serve a wide range of individual customers; small and middle market businesses as well as large corporations with a sizeable range of investing activities, banking assistance and asset/financial risk management practices.
By providing 51 million individuals, with roughly 5,300 retail banking offices and an estimated 16,350 ATMs as well as award-winning online banking solutions, BAML successful provide assistance to a great range of individuals, business and corporations world-wide (Annual Report, 2012).

By placing high concern on meeting individual needs and aspiring to be ‘more than a bank’ they are a financial service provider that attempts to connect to their customers every step of the way (Annual Report, 2012). The corporation aims to distinguish itself from its competitors by delivering innovative space solutions that help achieve its objectives of “attracting talent, fostering satisfaction and productivity among its associates”, and “allowing customers and clients to transact business with efficiency, security and confidence”. Therefore aiming to support and achieve their mission statement “World’s Most Admired Company” (Annual Report, 2012).

“Sustaining growth over the next ten years” is another major objective through which both acquisition and organic strategies are both prioritized and balanced, in order to follow customer demands and ultimately sustain a competitive advantage over their rivals, such as Citigroup (Annual Report, 2012)..

Problem Description

Job stress is a widespread concern across all employment sectors and occupational levels, and is a commonly reported cause of occupational illness and associated organisational outcomes (for example lost work days, turnover, workers’ compensation claims).
BAML, bases itself on a “pay-for-performance” culture and therefore they have a ‘rewards program’ in place to reward employees for contributing to the success of the company (Annual Report, 2012). This culture may be a large contributor to the death of 21-year-old intern, Moritz Erhardt, after a grueling seven-week placement who ‘allegedly worked for 72 hours straight’ and admitted he felt ‘pressurised to succeed’.

Even though “Pay-for-performance” may be motivating and seemingly increases productivity in the short term, it can also result in encouraging excessive work hours, which in turn increases stress. Stress is a perceived substantial imbalance between demands and an individual’s capability. Specific workplace stressors evident in BAML’s article include work demands (Such as unrealistic work loads with insufficient time to complete tasks), employee emotional demands (unrealistic personal expectations) and Low support.

It is important for BAML to understand that increased stress lead to behavioural, psychological and physiological consequences (for example decreased performance, burnout and health issues, respectively) and is therefore a significant problem that needs to be addressed immediately in order to maintain workers wellbeing, job performance and assist future growth of the company.

This relationship has been further examined and proved in Ozkan & Ozdevecioglu (2012) recent empirical article where a questionnaires results revealed that occupational stress does verify that there is a positive correlation between wellbeing and the impact on the three dimensions of burnout; emotional exhaustion, lack of personal accomplishment and depersonalisation.

Problem Diagnosis

To ensure BAML collect sufficient information, data collection methods such as structured interviews and questionnaires need to be implemented in order to bridge the gap between the expectations of managers and physical limitations of employees.

Frey and Oishi (1995, p.1) define an interview as "a purposeful conversation in which one person asks prepared questions (interviewer) and another answers them (respondent)". Structured interviews are surveys where the answers are listed on a form so that the interviewer simply marks the appropriate reply in each case.
(Nichols, 1991, p.131). Standardised approaches are advantageous in that the information is easily quantifiable and allows responses to be effortlessly compared. Due to the nature of fixed questions, there is very little freedom for flexibility helping to create uniformity.

Therefore, questions directed at managers, asking them to specifically state what they believe is expected by their employees, what tasks need to be fulfilled and what are appropriate time frames in order to complete those tasks. Questions such as these are imperative to ensure that variables such as worker productivity is firmly understood, to allow the organisation knows exactly what is expected of the employee and what level of stress the employee is expected to experience.

Questionnaires are most commonly a set of concise and preplanned questions used to gather information about a particular research area. They can be utilize as a means to elicit feelings, experiences and attitudes of individuals. BAML should implement structured questionnaires aimed at the employees, ranging from ‘Not Very’ to ‘Very’. For example, questions may include ‘How stressed do you feel on an average day at work’, ‘do you feel managers provide you with enough feedback and recognition’ or ‘do you feel as if you achieve a suitable work life balance (WBL)’. This would allow for sufficient feedback on variables such as levels of stress and dissatisfaction experienced by employees.

In theoretical reviews by Ewards, Caplan & Harrison (1998), it has been hypothesized that stress can occur if there is a mismatch between the demands placed on an individual and his or her abilities to meet those demands. This theoretical relationship was later supported by empirical evidence, through the use of a job satisfaction survey sent out to teachers, results revealed that high negative correlations between the ‘lack of organisational support’ stressors and overall job satisfaction provided convincing support for assertions by Edwards (1998) that dissatisfaction is an outcome of high levels of stress.
By implementing structured interviews and questionnaires, information vital to reducing this gap between the expectation of managers and the wellbeing and capabilities of employees will be discovered.

Strategic HRM Intervention

It would be recommended, that in order to maintain worker wellbeing, reduce; employee stress, burnout and turnover and thus increase job satisfaction and performance, BAML need to encourage more of a WLB as apart of their organisational culture.

The effective management of a WLB is a prominent issue in today’s workforce and is increasingly recognized as of strategic significance to both individual employees and the organisation as a whole. It is consistently argued that a WLB is a necessity and motivating factor to implementing new human resource initiatives in order for an organisation to attract and retain valued employees in a highly competitive labour market.

WLB initiatives commonly refer to flexible work practices (such as part-time/job-share arrangements), flexible working hours (changing start and finishing times), and responsive work environments (positive feedback and recognition) to name a few. BAML should consider a ‘clock-on: clock-off’ system so that both senior and human resource managers are able to regulate and keep track of the hours worked by a particular employee to ensure that no one employee is working more than they are capable of.

By regulating the work hours logged by an employee they will create a organisational culture that nurtures their employees wellbeing, reduce burnout and turnover and ultimately increase productivity in the long term. This is supported from a study conducted in Poland, which illustrated that nurses working 12-hour shifts compared unfavorably in several aspects to nurses working 8-hour shifts. As it were evident that nurses working the longer shift experienced significantly more chronic fatigue, cognitive anxiety, and emotional exhaustion (Iskra-Golec, Folkard & Marek, 1996).

Secondly, managers at BAML need to understand the importance of recognition and social esteem. The Effort-Reward Imbalance model (Siegrist, 1996) theorises that when the demands of the job are not matched by rewards (such as job security, pay, recognition, social esteem) strain will result. Further, a personal tendency to over commitment (for example, a strong desire for approval) may intensify this association. This was evident in Erhardt as he felt “pressurised” to succeed which resulted in overexertion.

Employing these WLB interventions will create favourable results in the way of improved employee wellbeing, reduced stressed and hence overall performance, that better align to the company’s strategies and objectives.

BAML’s main objective of “attracting talent, fostering satisfaction and productivity among its associates” will be achieved by having a responsive and healthy workforce, by encouraging a work-life balance and implementing practices that help to reduce employee stress levels which in turn will increase job performance.

Satisfying the objective of “sustaining growth in the next ten years” will evidently be a result of the above. By reducing stressors in the workplace, encouraging a work-life balance and increasing productivity, the company will begin to see a positive correlation between maintaining wellbeing/performance and the upward growth of the company.

According to the chosen article, BAML clearly need to make a change to the culture and WLB initiatives within their company, to ensure that they are able to eliminate the chance of such a tragedy repeating itself. If BAML had implemented necessary strategies sooner, Erhardt may not have experienced burnout out within the seven weeks. It is evident that he sadly lacked the necessary WLB, and they unfortunately lost a valuable employee. Evaluation
To evaluate the success of the inventions put in place, BAML should assess the attitudes and productivity before and after the WLB practices are implemented. A ‘pre-test’ and ‘post-test’ behaviour assessment on the employee would enable HR managers to determine whether or not attitudes were changed positively after the WBL, redesign and culture change had been put into practice.
Second to that, BAML would benefit and should encourage human resource managers to regularly set aside a short “catch-up” with individual employees to further establish their level of stress. These meetings would allow the HR managers to see what needs fixing and ultimately provide a anonymous “counselor” scenario so that the employ is honest and feels comfortable to express their concerns.
If BAML are able to successfully implement a WLB strategy that helps to diminish stress, turnover, and burnout by increasing employee wellbeing, they will in turn be able to maximise job satisfaction, performance and continue to grow as a global company.

Frey, J.H., & Oishi, S.M. (1995). How to Conduct Interviews by Telephone and in Person. London: Sage.

Nichols, P. (1991). A Field Guide for Development Workers; Social Survey Methods. Development Guidelines no.6, Oxfam, Ozford.

Edwards, J. R., Caplan, R. D., & Harrison, R. V. (1998). Person-environment fit theory: conceptual foundations, empirical evidence, and directions for future research. Theories of organizational stress, 10(1) 28-67.
Iskra-Golec, I., Folkard, S., Marek, T., et al. (1996). Health, well-being and burnout of ICU nurses on 12- and 8-h shifts. Work Stress 10(3), 251–6.

Ozkan, A., & Ozdevecioglu, M. (2013) The effects of occupational stress on burnout and life satisfaction: a study in accountants. Quality & Quantity, 47(5), 2785-2798

Siegrist, J. (1996). Adverse health effects of high-effort/low-reward conditions. Journal of 
Occupational Health Psychology, 1(1), 27-41.
N.A. (2013). Bank of America: Annual Report 2012. [ONLINE] Available at: e.g. [Last Accessed 14 October 2013].

Ward, V., & Hill. A (2013). Bank intern who died after 'working for 72 hours' felt pressure to excel. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 14 October 2013].

It’s rather ironic, when you are still at the library at 5am from the night before writing a paper on exhaustion and the importance of a work life balance

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