Investment bankers at UBS can now take at least two hours of "personal time" a week in the latest attempt by a bank to retain staff with a better work-life balance. 

In a profession known for its gruelling schedules, banks around the world are trying to lighten workloads to lower stress levels, especially among junior bankers. 

The UBS policy, dubbed "take two", aims to give bankers more flexible hours without colleagues having to pick up too much slack. 

The scheme, which is offered to about 6,000 people working for UBS in investment banking globally, was initiated by investment bank president Andrea Orcel following a staff survey. 

"Our industry is often criticised for poor work-life balance, so we asked our employees to come up with ideas and find solutions to the issues that matter to them," the 53-year old banker told Reuters. 

Most banks struggle though to translate flexibility into viable policies as multi-billion deals are typically signed at night after days of non-stop negotiations, with junior bankers typically bearing the brunt of the work. 

Ambitious graduates often refer to the "magic roundabout" where they get a taxi home after dawn and leave it waiting while they get ready to return to work. 

Now banks, facing growing competition from technology companies, hedge funds and private equity firms who offer junior bankers better pay and hours, are having to act.

Earlier this year JPMorgan Chase & Co told its investment bank staff they should take weekends off unless they were working on a major deal. 

UBS, which is battling weak earnings with cost-cutting, says it wants to give investment bankers more flexibility. 

"You can't force people to work longer or shorter hours: people don't like being forced," said Orcel. 

"All you can ask for is that they get their job done, but at the same time grant them enough find a balance that works for them." 

Since May 4, junior and senior bankers working within the same team at UBS can use at least two hours per week for personal matters, as long as co-workers agree to cover for them. 

"It's a 'give and take' exercise: people take two but also need to give two when their colleagues are away," said Orcel, who joined UBS in 2012, adding it should free up time for family events or activities like sports training without any stigma. 

"In an ideal world we wouldn't need this initiative, it would happen anyway. But for now having a branded initiative takes away the concern of finishing early or starting late." 

UBS said 145 teams signed up to the plan in its first week. 

In 2013, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern died after allegedly working 72 hours without sleep. 

An inquest later ruled that he had died of natural causes, and BAML launched an internal review into working conditions for junior employees. 

Orcel said the workaholic culture needs to change and highlighted Copenhagen, where bank offices are empty at 5pm as staff collect children from school but then work from home. 

Credit Suisse seeks to make Friday nights special for staff

Meanwhile, Credit Suisse has told its staff to leave work by 7pm on a Friday and not return until at least Saturday lunchtime, unless a big deal is in the works. 

Dubbed "Protecting Friday Night", the Swiss bank's initiative is part of a wider drive by investment banks to soften their workaholic image and stop talented staff leaving for jobs in other areas such as technology or private equity. 

In an email dated May 23, Credit Suisse told its staff in the EMEA investment banking and capital markets department that they should leave the office by 7pm on a Friday and not return until at least midday on Saturday - unless a major deal is launching or imminent, bank insiders told Reuters. 

Such instructions may seem outlandish to people working in other industries, where leaving work on a Friday and having a drink with friends or a family meal is still the norm. 

But for bankers, particularly juniors, who frequently find themselves working into the small hours on Fridays and at weekends, the diktat may bring some relief. 

"We have given a great deal of thought into how we can provide some time off for our bankers," said Marisa Drew, co-head of EMEA Investment Banking and Capital Markets Division said.

She added that Credit Suisse had sought feedback, in particular from junior staff, on weekends and work-life balance.