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Cut-throat attitude hurts intern health irreparably

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Undergraduates all over the world will return from summer jobs, research fellowships, and internships this week. One summer intern, however, will not.

Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old finance intern at the London Bank of America Merrill Lynch, was found dead in his London apartment on Aug. 15. The cause of his death is currently unknown, but Erhardt reportedly worked 72 hours straight without sleep, according to Reuters.

Finance internships are as competitive to get as they are demanding. According to The Guardian, a fellow intern of Erhardt said that interns typically worked 15 hours a day. Some interns often voluntarily work overtime — working long hours, they believe, is the surest way to impress their bosses and receive a job offer with a starting salary approaching six figures.

No one explicitly told Erhardt that he had to abandon three days of sleep — but while finance interns can benefit from their hard work, no one benefits more from interns’ zealousness and ambitiousness than the financial institutions employing them. If their interns want to work overtime, why stop them?

Such a mentality does little to change their greedy reputation. In a 2012 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 22 percent of American respondents had a positive view on banks.

To many, it isn’t surprising that banks would abuse customers or take advantage of the law, but to take advantage of one’s own workers is going too far. Yet, what will they do? Expecting major financial institutions to change their treatment of interns out of a moral regret would be comical.

Although the indifference of Erhardt’s supervisors is certainly deplorable, his death ultimately comes down to his willingness to work 72 hours straight.

The most impactful change must occur not at the top, but at the bottom. Finance interns may not be able to change the exploitative culture of their chosen field, but they can change how willing they are to succumb to its pressures. Although there is a high-paying job that interns are more or less auditioning for, there should be a limit to the sacrifices they are willing to pay for their future.

This sentiment is not only applicable to finance interns but to many young adults. As employers still find themselves cash-strapped from the global recession, they want to hire fewer employees who are versatile and want to work more hours. In a March article in The New York Times titled "The No-Limits Job" on the topic of demanding entry-level jobs, a media manager said, “We need to hire a 22-22-22,” referring to a 22-year-old willing to work 22 hours a day for $22,000 a year.

Thus, many college graduates and undergraduates take demanding internships and entry-level jobs in the hopes of securing better jobs in the future. Lucrative, high-paying jobs don’t grow on trees, and while working hard is often a requirement of securing that goal, there is a limit.

While a distant golden apple may justify the sacrifices interns and entry-level employees make, there may be — in extreme cases like Erhardt’s — no future at all. Moreover, there’s always another golden apple — some current unobtainable that can be reached with sacrifices made in the present: a higher position, a bigger house, or a faster car.

The journey to success is not always comfortable, but one’s health should never be compromised. One must be healthy to enjoy the fruits of his or her labor.