In our preview of the July 2019 print edition, Nigel Jones explains why he co-founded the City Mental Health Alliance and what can be done to facilitate a healthy working environment in City firms
by Eila Madden
When Nigel Jones was a teenager, he wanted to be a doctor. In the event, he became a lawyer, spending 32 years at Linklaters, the Magic Circle law firm. Medicine’s loss has been the City’s gain. Not only because of Nigel’s talents as a lawyer – that goes without saying. But also because he has been willing to put his head above the parapet to champion those suffering from mental ill health in the workplace and to encourage businesses to help employees keep themselves well.
His biggest intervention on this front was to co-found the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) – a group of banks, professional services firms, law firms and corporates in the City that recognise the importance of improving the way mental health is addressed in the workplace. An independent review of mental health and employers by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer reveals that poor mental health is costing the UK economy up to £99bn a year (p.75), of which £42bn is falling to employers, according to research by Deloitte.
For Nigel, setting up the alliance to improve the quality of the working environment for City professionals – and thus their mental wellbeing – not only made good business sense, he says it was also “morally and ethically the right thing to do”.
Moves within Linklaters
Shortly after making partner at Linklaters in 1995, he set up its first industry sector group, focused on healthcare. It was through this work that he realised we as individuals are ultimately responsible for keeping ourselves well and that the workplace could have an influence on that.
Linklaters was already doing a lot on this front, providing an in-house gym, a staff restaurant, health insurance and an employee assistance programme. What the firm didn’t have was a senior partner to say to the firm and the outside world that its focus on health and wellbeing was important.
Nigel became its first health and wellbeing partner champion. One of the first things he did was sign off a stress management policy, which had been sitting in a drawer unapproved because it had never had partner backing. He also went on a roadshow around the firm with the in-house GP, rolling out the policy and explaining why it was important to take it seriously.
Launching the CMHA
During this time, one question that plagued Nigel was why the firm engaged in work practices that partners knew to be counterproductive to the quality of client service, profitability and the health of employees. The answer? That the clients, including the banks and accounting firms, demanded it. So he decided to ask the banks why. An informal conversation over a coffee with two contacts (one from a City bank and one from a City accounting firm) led to the creation of the CMHA.
It aims to achieve a healthier working environment in the City in three ways: reducing stigma around mental health issues; improving people’s knowledge and understanding of mental health and giving them the language to talk about it articulately; and identifying practical steps organisations can take to help their people keep themselves well. Whether it’s encouraging physical exercise or giving people downtime to pursue a hobby, such as singing in a choir, the key has been to encourage firms to offer a range of interventions because different things will work for different people at different times.
It is better to have people who are well rested doing quality work during the working day
Not everyone has been convinced, however. Making the health and wellbeing of staff a business consideration would require major change across the City, not least to its notorious long-hours culture. Those who have worked in the Square Mile understand that a nine-to-five working day isn’t feasible if tight client deadlines are to be met, but that isn’t what Nigel is advocating. He is looking for a more nuanced approach.
“It’s about changing the way we interact with people so that they understand why they’re working hard, that they feel they have a purpose and that if they have worked hard for a period, they are then going to get a bit of downtime so that people are not working 24/7, 52 weeks a year without any sign of where the light at the end of the tunnel may be,” he says.
He also believes City firms shouldn’t reward unhealthy behaviour – such as presenteeism, answering emails within two minutes of them arriving, and checking work messages at 3am – with promotion and pay rises. It is better, he says, to have people who are well rested doing quality work during the working day.
There are managerial behaviours that the City needs to move away from, too, such as issuing work with a 9am Monday deadline at 6pm the previous Friday. “That happens a lot, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes deliberately,” says Nigel. “I think that’s one of the practices that we should look to move away from out of respect for the quality of life of the people involved, but also so that we can recruit and retain those people into our organisations and ensure that they can, over their careers, continue to provide that high-quality responsiveness to whoever is asking the question.”
Nigel makes a point of asking about his team’s personal commitments so that he can do his best to accommodate them. It may not always be possible, but the two-way communication flow is one way to make people feel valued within the workplace.
Alongside the unrealistic deadlines, other factors of City life need to be tackled: constant pressure; shouting at employees; not treating them as individuals; and not caring about their life outside work. “All of those things can increase stress on people unnecessarily and, if there’s too much of that, for certain people that can move on to create illness,” says Nigel.
When Nigel retired from Linklaters in 2018 and ceased to be fully active in the City, he made a decision to also step down as chair of the CMHA – a role he has held since 2016 and which he gave up at the end of May 2019.
“I’m very proud of the achievements that the team has made and it’s an honour to have been in the position of chair throughout that period,” says Nigel. “I don’t take personal credit for any of it. It’s been a team effort from people who are in the executive team, on the board, and from members and former members like Michael Cole-Fontayn MCSI, who since standing down as chairman of BNY Mellon has continued to be a very active vocal supporter of everything we do, including through his work as chair of the CISI.”
The full version of this article is published in the July 2019 print edition of The Review. All members, excluding student members, are eligible to receive the quarterly print edition of the magazine. Members can opt in to receive the print edition by logging in to MyCISI, clicking on My account, then clicking the Communications tab and selecting ‘Yes’.
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