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How much do Investment Bankers really work?

Every now and then there is a new controversy that goes viral about how long Investment Bankers work. What, do you really work 100h per week?! How is this even legal?! In case you have missed it, an “internal presentation” based on a survey of 13 Analysts at Goldman Sachs was leaked. The document describes the awful grind those Analysts are enduring with pretty charts and quotes.

Here are your highlights:

  • Average work hours over the past two months: 98h

  • Average sleep duration per night: 5h

  • Average bedtime: 3 AM

  • Significant deterioration of mental health (i.e. anxiety)

  • Significant deterioration of physical health (i.e. body hurts, exhaustion)

Are these claims true or is this just another overblown statement? Well, we do know that Investment Banking hours are quite crushing and far from your average 9 to 5. So, the general trend is indeed true. Yes, Investment Banking is not a walk in the park. Yes, if you end up working with a psycho VP your life will be miserable. Yes, if you don’t take care of yourself, your mental and physical health will deteriorate with time. And yes, the dreaded “100h week” does happen, but it is more an exception rather than your regular workload. If you end up consistently working 100h weeks, you are just really bad at your job, to be honest.

Again, while the general trend is true, you have to put in some disclaimers. The “100h per week” is pure face time – aka time spent at the office from check-in to check-out including downtime and breaks. Breaks are lunch breaks, coffee breaks, dinner and randomly chitchatting around. Downtime is when you are waiting for data from your client and cannot continue with your work. You are waiting for your client’s feedback.

So yes, the “100h per week” does happen, but it is more on the very top end of the workload. Most of the time you will be working 60h to 80h per week face time as an M&A Analyst. Meaning that you still have to adjust for inefficiencies, such as breaks or waiting for your client. Your actual productive work time is a lot lower than 100h per week. Even our former colleagues from our old shop chimed in with a “stop complaining guys”.

To give you a better feeling for Investment Banking hours, we’ll tell you how an easy, average and hectic work week looks like in detail. During downtime, you might get away with 40h to 60h on the low end. However, if shit burns down, you can expect 80h to 100h per week. The majority of the time you can expect to work around 60h to 80h face time. Those ranges are a lot more realistic and accurate as opposed to giving you a single figure and telling you how awful it is. Let’s look at an easy, average and hectic workweek in more detail. That’s how your “time in the office” actually fluctuates.

An easy week – You’ll work around 40h to 60h

Weekdays: You’ll come in at 9am and you’ll be leaving at around 7pm to 9pm give or take. Lunch breaks are longer (around 1h30) because things are chill. No late-night taxi or ordering food. On Friday you’ll leave at 7pm and get time to enjoy your Friday evening.

Weekends: Weekends are off – like laptop shutdown off. No one is bothering you and there is nothing to worry about for Monday.

How does it feel? You’ll have spent around 40h to 60h in the office. It feels like a week off where you just have to show up. Enjoy it as long as you can!

How often does this happen? This happens sometimes during August when everyone is on vacation (except you!) and at the end of the year, where the entire country is heading into Christmas and New Year’s celebration. It can also happen in between deals, where you’ve either just won a mandate after a hectic pitch or just closed a deal. Then you might get away with an easy week. In other words, it happens, but it doesn’t happen very often – like 20% of the time.

An average week – You’ll work around 60h to 80h

Weekdays: You’ll check-in at 9am and work until 10:30pm to 12am. Lunch breaks are a bit tighter at around 1h. You will always take a taxi home and eat dinner at the office. Your Friday will be from 8pm to 9pm – still enough to get a quick beer.

Weekends: Nobody expects you to come in on weekends. But if you care about your job, you’ll secretly do some work on Saturday or Sunday either from home or at the office. You are preparing (not finishing) items to be ready for distribution on Monday. Better to just be proofreading on Monday morning rather than frantically putting together a draft with dozens of typos.

How does it feel? You’ll end up working around 60-80h per week. You’ll feel tired, but it’s ok. That one full day off either on Saturday or Sunday really makes the difference. You get to sleep in, go to the gym and recover. You knew what you were getting yourself into, so no right to complain. Business as usual.

How often does this happen? This is the how 60% to 80% of your weeks will look like. This is your baseline. This your normal. This is your day-to-day operations. This is business as usual.

A hectic week – You’ll be working around 80h to 100h

Weekdays: You’ll be checking in at 9:30am because you’ll be working until 1am to 3am depending on how fast you are. Lunch breaks are a hectic 30 minutes or postponed until 3pm in case of an important call or meeting. You’ll always be eating dinner at the office and you’ll always be taking a late-night taxi home. On Friday you just leave at 9pm to 10pm knowing that there still is a lot of work for the weekend.

Weekends: You sleep in a little bit and start at 10am or 11am and work until 3pm to 8pm depending on how much work there is left. If it’s important, then your Associate will also check in on you. If it’s super important, the Managing Directors will check in during the weekend to get a status update. Weekend work is non-negotiable if you want to keep your job. There is no way you are going to finish all the items waiting until Monday. And whatever HR proclaims about protected weekends goes out the door.

How does it feel? You’ll end up working around 80h to 100h. The only time you are truly by yourself and at peace is during the 20-minute cap ride home. At the office, you are being bombarded with emails, requests and markups. You learn to hold your emotions and to give happy, concise and professional answers with 4h of sleep. Every hour you put in hurts exponentially more. Every hour you put in comes directly out of your sleep. After working through the weekend, you will feel a little bit dizzy on Monday because you’ve been in the office basically the 8th day in a row. You think it’s Thursday, but it’s just Monday. Back to business.

How often does this happen? This is deal mode. This is when things heat up. This is when you have to step onto the gas pedal to finish a pitch or push a deal to completion. This is crunch time. This is what you have been training for. This happens around 20% to 30% of the time.

Why do Investment Bankers work so long?

The event-driven nature of the business leads to unpredictable work demands: Your job as an Investment Banker is to make a deal happen. Next to managing your client you also have to deal with potential investors. And if all external forces align for the deal to happen, you must do everything you can to facilitate the transaction. You must overcome all objections as swiftly as possible. You must maintain and drive the momentum. It does not matter how much work it takes. This is when you make money and only when a deal is completed. For example, a deal that appears to be dead suddenly receives a new bid from a random potential investor. You can now clear your desk and cancel all your plans to get your client prepared for this decisive meeting to turn it all around and make money. You are not getting paid by the hour like Engineers, Lawyers or Management Consultants. You are getting paid when a deal gets done. This makes your workload quite volatile, unpredictable and impossible to plan.

Splitting the work is inefficient. You need one “task owner”: You might think, why not hire more people, split the work and we all get to go home earlier. Sounds nice, but it does not work like that. Take for example a financial model. The best way to staff this item is for one Analyst to do the modeling in Excel and for one Associate to do the checking. You cannot split a financial model with three different Analysts. They would need more time organizing themselves, dividing the work and harmonizing the final product vs. one person doing all the work – day and night. In addition, you need one person responsible for that item. One task owner who takes care of all the updates and knows every detail of that item. If you were to split that item with three different Analysts, who does the update? Who understands the model the best? “Oh, but that was Analyst 2’s part.” You don’t want to talk to three different people every time changes need to be made. It’s more efficient to have one stellar person in charge of the entire item and have him work longer hours than hire three average people splitting the work.

The culture: Working long hours to “pay your dues” as a Junior Banker is deeply rooted in Investment Banking culture. Everyone says “face time does not matter” but the unwritten rules of office politics still dictate that you must work longer than your boss. At the end of the day, you have something like this: MDs leave at 7pm, VPs leave at 8pm, Associates at 9pm and Analysts at 10-11pm. If you are done with your tasks, it is assumed that you have more “bandwidth” available. It is not a smart move to leave early while your Associate is still busy (doing your work!). At a bare minimum, you have to offer support by saying that you have completed all of your items for the day and if there is anything else you can do to help. This way, you will be perceived as a team player. But most of the time you are actually busy (you should be!), because the more junior you are, the more time-consuming “grunt work” you have to do. There is no way you can get the work done faster than your Associate, who is more experienced and does less grunt work than you. And remember every detail matters. There are always mistakes to catch and mistakes to correct… Leaving early and submitting work with typos and careless errors just does not make a good impression.

Where does it leave us?

There you have it. An M&A Analyst will work around 60h to 80h face time most of the time. This is still a lot by any means. You will take a late night taxi home a lot of times. Facetime is time spent at the office and includes breaks during the day and downtime where you are waiting for your client’s feedback. On an easy week, you might get away with 40h to 60h on the low end. However, if shit burns down, you can expect 80h to 100h per week. That’s how your “time in the office” actually fluctuates.

Workloads are unpredictable because of the event-driven nature of the business. You cannot divide an Excel model and hire more people. It does not work like that. You will mess up your output. It only works with one accountable task owner. There is a deep-rooted culture of paying dues as a Junior Banker. The more senior you get, the more Junior Bankers you have to do your grunt work. The industry has always been like this, so don’t expect any changes any time soon. It’s just part of the culture you are signing up for.

Additional resources

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