New Internationalist

Why sell your youth to big business?

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Demanding jobs leave little time to relax Mario Pleitez under a Creative Commons Licence

A 21-year-old German banking intern, Moritz Erhardt, died working at the London branch of Merrill Lynch. He was found dead in the shower and an investigation into his death is currently underway.

Moritz was by all accounts hard working in the extreme. Diligent, driven, capable, efficient, he was considered one of the lucky ones. He'd got the coveted position in a prestigious global bank, cherry-picked from hundreds of other good, probably excellent, applicants.

Bank colleagues and fellow interns told the media that the aspiring student was a ‘superstar’, adding. ’he worked very hard and was very focused. We typically work 15 hours a day or more and you would not find a harder worker than him.’ One colleague told the Evening Standard: ‘He seemed a lovely guy and was very popular with everyone. He was tipped for greatness.’

Young people who make it into much sought-after firms know they are the 'chosen ones'. They are paid handsomely and have perks thrown at them: fancy lunches and dinners, chauffeur driven cars. They feel they've made it. And since the bank or company treats them like VIPs, which they are, they need to perform in a manner commensurate with the fat salaries and unlimited perks. So their corporate bosses fatten them up beautifully before going for the jugular. They sign up for the good life and that's it. They step into their gilded cages and are in bondage for the next few years. When you are 21, burnout, exhaustion, or sleep deprivation seems a joke. So does work-life balance. You are only young once, is the logic. And if you can't work at a frenetic pace now, what will you produce when you get old and tired? Meaning 40, probably.

It's not just the City of London which drives young folk into the ground. All over the world, people in fancy corporate jobs are living on the brink. 'We are in a recession,' they are told. 'Consider yourself lucky to be in a job at all. Work hard. Keep your complaints to yourself.' So they work themselves into exhaustion, feel a failure if they can’t cope with working six and a half days a week for months on end. Constantly on call, they can never switch their mobiles off. They have no time for friends or family. A Bangalore techie told me, 'it's a dog eat-dog-world. You can't make real friends because at the end of the month someone may get a pink slip. All my colleagues are competent, good people but you are trying to show you are better, to get yourself promoted and stay ahead of others who are your peers. So you can’t trust your colleagues. It’s a nasty, unpleasant world in spite of the corporate-driven pubbing, clubbing and five-star team-building, socializing exercises. The pressure is unbearable.

Young people don’t have time to socialize or relax. Forget 'no time to stand and stare', there's never time for an old-fashioned picnic, a day at the beach, to read a book or poetry. They rush to a spa to chill and detox. New Age relaxing has to be done in a driven, slickly managed package. The most serious problem however, is that they are not allowed time for normal, healthy relationships. And if they do manage to meet someone special, relationships and marriages fall apart because of the tremendous pressure of work, outputs, deadlines and horrendously long hours.

The pace of life is not negotiable any more. It’s a given, a package that is taken for granted, comes with the job and the perks and the pay. People think when they land a much coveted, greatly sought-after job, that they've arrived. In actual fact, they are putting their lives on hold. Missing out on their youth, on the fun of being young and carefree. Sometimes the realization hits them. But mostly it’s difficult to jump off the treadmill. You may never get such a well-paid job again. It takes guts, it’s risky.

And all this angst and heartbreak merely for a few dollars more.

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