28 June 2017
Stress and the City: the pressure cooker of high-stakes banking
The unknowns surrounding so-called hard Brexit, dwindling job security, increased regulatory scrutiny and long working hours are taking a toll on the mental health of those working in the city’s financial sector, which is so crucial to the wider UK economy.
The global financial crisis, the resulting meltdown, and the subsequent disruption as financial institutions have by necessity undergone rapid cultural and structural change, have pushed city stress levels into the stratosphere.
Reuters said British banks have cut 186,111 jobs since the 2008 crisis. According to a tally of job warnings since the EU referendum, a hard Brexit could move at least 9,000 financial services jobs out of the UK1. Estimates for the impact of Brexit vary but the most sobering is a warning that in total more than 230,000 jobs could be lost2.
Work-related stress is epidemic. Employees are soldiering on, working long hours with the spectre of long-term staffing culls. Many forward thinking employers are trying to tackle the issue responsibly, adopting comprehensive or full-service wellbeing solutions that include access to counsellors, mental health advice and stress-relieving activities like yoga or gym memberships.
The city has been praised for its investments in resilience training and wellness at work initiatives. There is always room for improvement, but the focus on wellbeing is light years ahead of where it once was.
There is, however, a significant taboo that still exits. Stress is a condition that carries a heavy stigma.
YouGov surveyed 20,000 people in work across the UK and found that 77 per cent of employees said they had experienced some kind of mental health problem. Tellingly, 56% said their employers took no mitigating action. Similarly, in a survey among decision makers at financial institutions around 70% said they would not notify their bosses if they had a problem, believing an admission of anxiety or mental health issues could damage their career prospects. Many more cases go unreported. The support systems are in place but attitudes and culture can still seem less than compassionate.
There have also been instances where businesses have had access to all the right tools i.e. the best wellbeing systems such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) systems, private medical insurance, lifestyle assessments, engagement and benefits portals and wearable technologies but have lacked the knowhow to take advantage of them to make a dent on health and wellbeing levels.
It may be as simple as finding ways to improve the levels of staff engagement that could make all the difference. While never straightforward, encouraging better use of an EAP system could provide the necessary access to confidential psychiatric support and face-to-face counselling. Promoting the use of lifestyle assessments are also fantastic motivators for staff to monitor steps, exercise, calories consumed, heart rates and hours slept.
When driven from the top and with an understanding of the importance of an holistic approach to health and wellbeing, the improvements could be life changing.
In one particular case, a wealth management firm in the city decided to embed health and wellbeing within the culture of the company. This resulted in staff engagement in their health and wellbeing benefits increasing from 40% to 70%. At the same time the number of people categorised as at-low-risk of health problems improving from 36 to 57%. Health and wellbeing programmes can have a direct impact on a business, as happy, healthy employees are more productive.
Greater emphasis has been placed on health and wellbeing and mental health in the workplace. As work-related mental health is said to be responsible for more than 24 working days lost per case3 - making it one of the leading causes of work-related absence - it is not an issue businesses can afford to ignore.
It is vital that employers ensure that they have an effective strategy in place, particularly for mental health and stress. Seek independent advice if necessary. A mental health condition can be classed as a disability if it has a considerable and lasting effect on a person’s capabilities in terms of carrying out day to day activities. If an employer understands their responsibilities then the right support can be provided with the appropriate sensitivity, avoiding potential liabilities if a business got things wrong.
Firms should be showing both bravery and openness in addressing the stigmas of stress and mental health in the city.
3 Health and Safety Executive – Working days lost - http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm