Moritz Erhardt, the 21-year-old Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern who was found dead in a shower at his London flat after working for 72 hours in a row, died of an epileptic seizure, an inquest has found.
The coroner Mary Hassell said fatigue could have been a trigger, but there was no proof of this and it was possible that the seizure was something that just happened.
Erhardt, from south-west Germany, was found dead in a shower cubicle at his temporary accommodation in east London in August. The death of the dedicated student as well as reports of extreme working habits in investment bank led to a debate about a culture that effectively forces interns into working 100-hour weeks in an attempt to break into the lucrative industry.
Erhardt was a week from completing a placement at Bank of America Merrill Lynch's London offices, and was due to be offered a job at the bank.
The whole thing is disturbing: Interns giving away their labor to businesses that turn around and sell it*; the fact that internships (especially time-intensive ones) are heavily weighted in favor of those who already have access to wealth, lowering the possibility of wealth mobility; even the possibility that a bank has just worked a 21 year-old intern to death. (The corner was cautious and inconclusive, of course—but it's not hard to imagine putting a thumb on the scales for "inconclusive" with the massive bank and the legal ramifications hanging in the balance.)
But the most disturbing part of the story comes at the very end:
One City intern, who wanted to be known only as Alex, told the Guardian at the time of Erhardt's death that working for more than 100 hours was normal, but said that despite the pressures he and other interns enjoyed the experience.
"On average, I get four hours' sleep about 70% of the time … [but] there are also days with eight hours of sleep," Alex said. "Work-life balance is bad. We all know this going in. I guess that's the deal with most entry-level jobs these days."
He added that despite the amount of time spent in the office, he "enjoyed it greatly".
"That's the deal" these days—give away your labor, give away your "free time," let them sell it at a massive markup, and enjoy it.
The story also reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin. What does the imp offer the woman? To make the labor she gives away more productive. What does he want in exchange? Her child.
Sounds like a rotten deal, doesn't it?
* This is something I can't help thinking about when business owners, even small-business owners say: "I create jobs! My employees need me! I'm doing all my employees a favor!"
That's not actually true.
Your employees are selling you their labor, which you sell at a markup, and you can have nice things: nice cars, nice condos, trips to tropical beaches, and so on. (Or at least that's the goal.) Really, your employees are doing you a favor. If you can't run a business that pays its (very generous) employees a fair wage, maybe you're not cut out for business.