May 22, 2013

Employment consultants, HR managers and executive search firms all talk about work-life balance and, no doubt,  a large portion of employees are still trying to achieve the proper mix of work and leisure in their lives.

In financial services, the focus on balancing work and family has usually tilted more toward work, especially in recent years, as firms have cut back and the remaining workforce is trying accomplish the same goals with fewer resources.  

However, despite the challenge of doing more with less and working longer hours, U.S. financial services workers are reporting less stress and a better work-life balance than their peers in Europe or the Middle East, according to a study from eFinancialcareers.com. This is surprising, since European workers generally have a 35-hour work week and more vacation. Plus, U.S. workers are known to work well more than 40 hours per week, and have fewer vacation days.

Stress At Work, Wall Street

According to a note from eFinancialCareers' Constance Melrose, who is managing director for North America, years of longer work hours have forced U.S. financial services workers to perfect the work-life balance, whereas European workers are just starting to face the "do more with less" mandate as the Euro zone economies struggle. Melrose writes:

As European countries -- despite abundant vacation allotments and 35-hour work weeks -- face increasing economic pressures, they, too are forced to work more hours under increasingly stressful circumstances. That financial professionals in Europe and the Middle East are more stressed out and feel they have less time for leisure activities may simply be a matter of growing pains and perception. But all is not lost. These countries can look to the United States as proof that it is possible to get more done in less time.

If European financial services workers do look at their U.S. peers, they will find that many financial services workers claim they have achieved work-life balance, according to the eFinancialCareers survey. Melrose adds:

Wall Street workers have spent decades of long hours in the office, and have perfected the art of balancing career with hobbies and personal life. Our respondents say they spend these off-work hours playing sports, with friends and family, and -- the great American pastime -- watching TV. In fact, 66% of U.S respondents say they have achieved work-life balance, compared with just 47% of those in Germany. And Wall Streeters engage in a multiplicity of stress-busters from reading to cooking to volunteering. Respondents told us about walking their dogs, engaging in animal rescue, spending time in bars and spending time in prayer.

However, despite achieving a good balance between their carrier and their personal lives, workers in the U.S. still feel under appreciated, especially when it comes to their paycheck:

After all, U.S. and U.K. respondents say they are far more likely than their colleagues elsewhere to say they are underpaid and bring work home. Yet these countries report the lowest stress levels.

The eFinancialCareers Stress Survey 2013 was conducted among a total of 3,399 finance professionals currently working, of which 1,905 in the U.S, 583 in the UK, 435 in France, 359 in the financial centres of Middle East, and 117 in Germany. The survey was conducted in May 2013.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology.