Work-life balance: what you need to know

Life in the City can be demanding, but sacrificing your social life and your sanity shouldn't be necessary, especially as many firms are keen to help employees develop a good work-life balance.

First things first...

University might be a great time to take up a range of eclectic hobbies and interests, but you'll need to scale them back once you enter the workplace. If you try to fit a trip to the gym, an hour of guitar practice and a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad into every day you're going to be running on empty before the first week is over.

Similarly, don't over-react and try to cut all the fun things out of your life. Doing so will not only drive you crazy, it'll also make you the most boring party guest on the planet. Having interests is important, you just won't be able to keep up with them all as often as you're used to doing.

Instead, compromise will be key. Catch up with your favourite TV shows on the commute into work. Get used to going to the gym less. Learn to play ukelele instead of the guitar. Maximise the spare time you do have, and suddenly the extra couple of hours you have to work won't be as soul-crushing.

Bend and flex

This may come as a surprise but, in the supposedly heartless, ruthless world of the City, firms actually do care about their employees' happiness. Having realised exhausted, stressed graduates don't produce the best work, more and more employers are beginning to offer flexible working hours to employees.

That said, The Gateway would strongly advise against requesting a four-day week on your first day of the job. Be prepared to put some long shifts in and show off your skills before you can start taking advantage of the perks.

In some cases, it is possible to work stable, regular hours within larger firms. For instance, employees at PwC who work for their charity and government clients are rarely required to work outside of normal office hours. In-house corporate lawyers also benefit from a more structured work schedule.

Blurred lines

If you'd rather not sacrifice salary or career advancement for the sake of an extra hour in bed each night, stopping work from spilling over into your spare time will be vital. Failure to do so is likely to be the difference between enjoying your new career or crying in the shower each morning.

As great as modern technology is, preventing work from interrupting you at home used to be a lot easier. In the age of the smartphone and constant internet access, work emails can now bother you no matter where you are.

Thankfully, these messages are rarely urgent. So unless it's made clear to you that you need to be ready to respond, wait until you're back at work the next day to read through them all. Besides, if you're needed urgently, your boss is more likely to call than write you an email.

Nobody's perfect

It can be easily forgotten, but it's worth remembering: you are NOT a superhero. Don't expect to be able to do every little task perfectly. Sometimes, getting the job done on time is more important than quality.

Similarly, be comfortable turning down extra work if you've already got too much to do, though make sure you understand what your organisation's definition of "too much" is. Drowning under a relentless tide of work might seem like a noble way to bow out but it's foolish if the workload is purely of your own making. It sometimes feels easier just to say yes, but doing so every time will cause you more problems in the long run than saying "no" where necessary.

The dreaded "n word" is likely to also rear its head in social circles, as being busier at work may occasionally mean having to turn friends down or cancel plans. Irregular work schedules make planning social events difficult, but not impossible. As with managing your office workload, it'll be a case of choosing your moments.

The Gateway says relax

All of this advice can't help but make the working world sound terribly daunting, so much so that you're probably now hurriedly researching masters courses in an attempt to prolong your university stay.

There's no need to panic though. Working life might be a step up from the casual, carefree life of a student but as long as you know what to expect it's fairly easy to gradually adjust to your new way of life. If things do seem overwhelming at times, don't forget the perks that make the sacrifices worthwhile. Whether it's a healthy annual bonus or the chance to travel abroad, even the most stressful jobs will have their positives!

From the horse's mouth

Who better to ask for advice on juggling business and pleasure than those already out there in the working world? The Gateway asked a group of City employees how they find the work-life balance in their jobs.

Tom Holm, Equity Derivatives Trader, Credit Suisse:

"I have a good work-life balance, with time to socialise in the evenings and at weekends. I can go out and do all the things I wanted to do when I was a student, but couldn't afford!"

Suzanne Barry, Head of Liquidity and Investments for Global Transaction Services (GTS) at Bank of America Merrill Lynch:

"You have a good work/life balance here - it's not exactly a 9am to 5pm job, but it's also not usually a 6am to midnight one either!"

Sarah Isted, Assurance Partner, Government & Public Sector team, PwC:

"I've been surprised by the good work-life balance at PwC. There's a social committee who organise events, like bowling nights or drinks events."

Swati Goel, Infrastructure Delivery Manager, Credit Suisse:

"My hours depend on the project on which I'm working. Sometimes I can have five very big requests or I could have 20 smaller projects; both would keep me equally busy. Generally I work from 8.30am-9am until 6pm - the hours are relatively flexible."

What am I getting myself into?

As helpful as they are, good time management and efficient work habits will only get you so far. The biggest factor in determining your work-life balance will ultimately be the career path you choose to take. Want to know what to expect from your dream job? Look no further.

Banking

Those who enter trading will find their lives become tied to the trading floor hours. While this means an early start, it should also mean an early finish, though practically every day will be hectic and busy from the moment you arrive.

Investment banking offers a more unpredictable work pattern. As you'll be working on long-term deals that can often take months to see through, your workload is likely to change from day to day. As deadlines approach, expect to be working long hours. Once a deal is completed, there's usually some downtime before the next one, which can allow you to take a couple of days off.

Law

If you work for a large City firm, some weekend, late night or even overnight work is likely at busy times, so be prepared. If that sounds daunting, bear in mind that disputes lawyers tend to have more fixed hours as they're generally working around set court dates, which makes it easier to plan a schedule in advance.

Consulting

The consulting lifestyle can be rather chaotic. Big projects and urgent deadlines mean a lot will be expected of you in terms of time and commitment, though once these projects are completed there should be time for a breather. Working in this sector can often mean travelling to work with clients in person, which can also take a toll on your social life.

Accounting

Many firms in this sector are leading the way on achieving a good work-life balance for their employees. Workload will build up towards the end of the year when many clients' accounts will be due, but hours should still remain fairly stable.

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