Bank of America intern dies after alleged all-nighters, sparks working culture debate

Posted By KATE STANTON,  |  Aug. 21, 2013 at 6:39 PM
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A series of high-profile lawsuits about unpaid internships -- in one instance, a judge ruled that "Black Swan" film interns should have been paid for their work -- have reinvigorated the debate about difficulties some young people face finding jobs in their field.

But another facet of the discussion is paid internships, where young people feel forced to prove themselves in an increasingly competitive environment, especially in the financial sector. The conversation heated up this week when a 21-year-old German student, who had graduated from the University of Michigan's prestigious business school and found a place with Bank of America's summer internship program, was found dead in his shower on August 15.

Moritz Erhardt had epilepsy and his cause of death has yet to be determined, but reports that he had pulled three all-nighters in a row have prompted questions about whether interns are dangerously overworked.

The Independent called it "slavery in the city," speaking to interns who regularly worked nights.

“You’re only doing it for up to 10 weeks so there’s a general acceptance of it," one said. "I see many people wandering around, blurry-eyed and drinking caffeine to get through but people don’t complain because the potential rewards are so great. We’re competing for some very well-paid jobs.”

One former intern said many young people only have themselves to blame.

"Some current and former interns said they went into the City with their eyes wide open. “You’re not being exploited, you are exploiting yourself,” she told the Financial Times. “When I was an analyst, HR would organize work-life balance seminars at 8pm and then we would go back to our desks and work all night.”

"Sometimes these long hours may be justified by necessity," Policy Mic's George Herbert writes, "but as many of those who have worked in the industry will attest, the combination of remuneration packages weighted heavily towards performance-related bonuses and a highly competitive atmosphere make it hard to break the culture of long hours even when further work is of little benefit."

"We are deeply shocked and saddened by the news of Moritz Erhardt's death," Bank of America said in a statement. "He was popular amongst his peers and was a highly diligent intern at our company with a promising future. Our first thoughts are with his family and we send our condolences to them at this difficult time

Bank of America's head of international communications, John McIvor, told CNBC that he didn't know how Erhardt died, but said that internships exist so young people can see if they're a good fit for the company after they graduate.

"I'm not going to comment on what hours people choose to spend in the office voluntarily," he said. "But if you think about it logically, what we're trying to do is something that happens across all the big firms. We're looking to get to know them better."

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