Executive Stress In The City

The Times  –  Nov 2011

The City is a notoriously stressful work environment with ‘burnout’ viewed as an occupational hazard. Over my twelve year banking career I saw numerous colleagues throw in the towel citing stress as the reason but before they did this they generally exhibited three main tell-tale signs: 

Staring … usually into the middle-distance. Apparently Lloyd’s CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio was exhibiting this symptom and it’s a classic. The footage of Nick Leeson on the floor of the Singapore futures exchange just before his rogue trading was uncovered shows a textbook ‘2000 yard stare’ – interestingly, a term first used to describe the unfocused gaze of a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mania … usually involving sleep-deprivation and moments of ‘extreme clarity’. One ex-colleague took me out for a drink just before he suffered a nervous break-down. He chain-smoked, couldn’t sit still and talked at me at a million miles an hour. It was almost as if his brain was short-circuiting in front of me.

Drinking … ‘the cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems’ (Homer Simpson). What could be a better temporary reliever of stress than a nice quiet beer with the lads? Unfortunately, extreme problems require extreme solutions and quite quickly the solution becomes the problem (especially if you’re foolish enough to add cocaine into the mix).

Between September 2006 and June 2008 I wrote an anonymous column called ‘Cityboy’ in thelondonpaper exposing the nefarious goings-on I witnessed in the Square Mile. Had I been uncovered I would have been fired immediately which was understandably stressful.

Interestingly, my ex-colleagues now tell me that back then I was a hard-drinking maniac with a 2000 yard stare … if my bosses had identified these symptoms early on they would have saved themselves a lot of bother!

Thoughts ?

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