The death of an intern employed by Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch has sparked an intense debate about excessive work pressures – and other businesses are being warned to vigilantly monitor the warning signs for burn-out.
The story is just one of several this week regarding the mistreatment of interns. In the United States, an intern has launched legal action against rap artist P Diddy alleging underpayments, while a group associated with Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg was criticised for advertisements for unpaid internships.
Bank of America intern Moritz Erhardt was pronounced dead on Thursday evening last week. Posters on the forum site wallstreetoasis.com expressed shock over the intern’s sudden death, with reports he’d worked for 72 hours straight.
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The cause of his death is still unclear, with Metropolitan Police in London saying there were no suspicious circumstances.
Sparked by Erhardt’s death, questions are now being raised about the serious health risks for any employee working excessively long hours.
While most companies are able to recognise the lifestyle dangers associated with working a few long hours, experts warn this situation goes far beyond the most common issues – and say it’s the company’s responsibility to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Victorian and Tasmanian Australian Institute of Management chief executive Tony Gleeson told SmartCompany there is a clear need for employees to slow down.
“There are more than just health risks. It also impacts on your relationships at home and with colleagues; it even causes unproductivity after a certain level.
“In the long run you’re also increasing the operating costs for the organisation. If one person gets seriously ill, from a manager’s perspective, that is a significant cost,” he says.
Gleeson says it’s tempting for young people to work long hours to try and stand out in an organisation.
“There are a lot of driven young people today and it’s a very competitive market in law firms and the banks.”
Gleeson says once an employee has been identified as working excessively long hours, it’s up to the manager to have a conversation with the staff member in question.
“Managers need to engage with their staff and encourage people to have a balanced life by showing them this.”
“You need to lead from the top and if you have a stressed-out employee, provide them with support,” he says.
Gleeson also points out while many younger workers equate working longer hours with success and a higher quality of work, this isn’t often the case.
And it’s not just employees who need to worry. Gleeson says business owners are just as likely to work incredibly long hours which harm their health.
Gleeson says ultimately having a healthy workplace is safer and “far better” for the business in the long run.
“The irony with the big four banks and other corporations is that it’s often these kinds of [demanding, but unsafe] standards which attract people to the organisation,” he says.