Multiple news sources have published stories this week about a Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern working in London who died Aug. 15 after reportedly working three straight days. Moritz Erhardt was a 21-year-old German student completing a notoriously intense internship at the bank and was found dead in his shower. At Drexel, most of us have experienced firsthand that working full time is a different kind of demanding than a typical student schedule. How far are we willing to push ourselves to make sure we stand out from our peers? Even though most of our co-ops are not as intense or competitive as Erhardt’s investment banking internship, it is still a shock to our system to see such a young man literally work himself to death. Drexel students are conditioned to give everything they do 100 percent of their efforts, but students also need to understand that personal health should always come first.
Our faculty and staff understand how competitive the job market is these days, so they constantly stress to us how hard we must work to set ourselves apart from the competition. They’re absolutely right — getting a job with our undergraduate education is nowhere near as easy as it was a few decades ago. We know how rigorous it can be to work full time under this kind of pressure, but we take it for granted most of the time because this work culture has become the status quo in many developed countries. We know that caffeinated beverages and 5-Hour Energy are not adequate substitutes for a good night’s sleep, but when our definition of success in the workplace becomes so time-consuming that we must deprive ourselves of sleep, we nevertheless turn to these stimulants to get us through the day. When such unhealthy habits become so ingrained in our culture, it takes a tragic news story like this to make us think twice about our way of life.
For the six-month period that students spend on co-op, we are expected to act as adults in a professional environment. At the same time, we are still college students trying to make the most of this four- or five-year experience as much as we can. When students go on co-op, they try to balance their extracurricular activities, other side jobs, a night class and a social life. Working 40 hours per week, taking a class and staying involved on campus can quickly eat up all of our time, leading to a lack of sleep and feelings of unnecessary stress. Students need to realize that during the six-month co-op period, they should make co-op a priority and schedule extracurriculars around it, making sure they leave plenty of time for sleep and relaxation. After the first few weeks of co-op and adjusting to a new job, students can start to add extracurriculars into their schedules little by little. They also can’t be afraid to turn down taking on more responsibility in a student group or even stepping down from a leadership position.
Many students who put their health second to their work performance are overlooking the fact that health reflects quality of work. If you stretch yourself too thin, small details will slip through the cracks, and you won’t be able to put 100 percent of your efforts into any of your work. If your health suffers, your work will suffer. It is better to sacrifice a couple of commitments for the time being so that you can focus on staying healthy and doing well at your co-op. Once everything is on track, then you can meet your other needs. Plus, no boss wants to have interns who neglect their health. If you don’t think you can maintain a healthy balance while meeting the expectations of your co-op employer, talk to your co-op coordinator. Last week’s tragedy reminds us that your personal schedule outside of work night not always be the problem. Ask for your co-op coordinator’s honest opinion as to whether or not your employer’s work demands are reasonable.
Your co-op is meant to be a positive experience. You may end up discovering that the co-op you selected is not the job for you, but making that discovery means that your time was not wasted. Co-ops, internships and other “real-world” experiences are important for professional development, but sometimes we must remind ourselves that one short-term job is not going to make or break you as a professional. We also have to remind ourselves that losing a night’s sleep will not earn us more recognition at work. By taking good care of ourselves, we prove that we can effectively balance work with the rest of our busy lives. So eat three well-balanced meals each day, get a good night’s rest, and prepare yourself for success both in and out of the office.