Bank of America Intern Death Puts “Workaholism” in Spotlight

The recent death of an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London has some people asking for an overhaul of the “workaholism” culture among the younger members of staff in London. G...
Bank of America Intern Death Puts “Workaholism” in Spotlight
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  • The recent death of an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London has some people asking for an overhaul of the “workaholism” culture among the younger members of staff in London.

    German student Moritz Erhardt, 21, had earned a position as an intern for seven weeks for the summer at the London office of Bank of America. His internship was set to end this week. He was pronounced dead at his apartment on London’s Claredale Street after police found him unconscious in his shower on Thursday, August 15.

    In a statement, bank spokesman John McIvor said, “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.”

    London police say Erhardt’s death is being treated as non-suspicious, though no cause of death has yet to be released. The young man’s untimely death has some speculating that working such long hours into the night for consecutive days before he died may have played a large part in his death.

    This speculation has many wanting a change in hours for students working to secure a job in the banking world, and apparently the overworking of young employees is a common occurrence in the city.

    “I think that what is very important is that HR professionals, and particularly those in the city, ensure that young people are being cared for and their needs are closely monitored,” said Ben Lyons, co-director of Intern Aware, a charity campaigning against unpaid internships.

    Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor of leadership at London’s Cass Business School, who has also held senior human resource roles at international banks, told the Financial Times, “For reasons related to an individual’s ambition or the current employment market, people are pretty desperate to get jobs. Some employers are exploiting that fact, pushing people past the point where it makes sense for their health or from a business perspective.”

    Bank interns know what they’re getting into when they apply for positions, even when they’re told the horror stories of what to expect, they don’t shy away from the business. One spokesperson from the organization FinanceInterns said, “Once a student has come to us, they’ve already made up their mind they want to work in banking so the horror stories… [don’t] put them off…Three all-nighters in a row, eight all-nighters: if someone’s in single digits for all-nighters, they’re one of the lucky ones.”

    Like so many other careers, internships are what help future employees find jobs. McIvor said, “It’s a very important part of our recruitment program. So a lot of the people we will ultimately recruit as junior bankers…will come from the summer intern program…It’s better than conducting face-to-face interviews. So it’s very much in our interest that people have a positive experience during any internship that they have. That’s why when they are with us, we put a lot of resource behind it.”

    Though McIvor wouldn’t comment on the hours interns worked, he did say they were given plenty of support in the form of mentors, a line manager, and a full human resources team to “take care of any concerns.”

    A former intern at HSBC in London, who no longer even works in the banking industry said, “If you can follow instructions then they will like you and that often means staying very, very late doing ridiculous things. It’s partly a culture of intern trying to impress.”

    Until the facts of Erhardt’s death are released, Bank of America will wait and see if they need to change anything to their intern program.

    Andre Spicer, a professor at Cass Business School thinks they, as well as other banks, need to go ahead and create limits on hours and look at whether or not long hours are productive. In a statement, Spicer said, “If large firms hope to be sustainable and attractive to employees, they need to tackle the extreme hours culture.”

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