One in four people suffers from mental health issues in their lifetime, according to the World Health Organisation, yet the stigma still attached to discussing them means they remain a sensitive topic in the workplace.
That is certainly the case in the world of finance, where mental wellbeing often takes a back seat to the pressure to succeed. Recent media coverage suggests financial services firms are waking up to the need to take their employees’ wellbeing seriously, but that more needs to be done.
The Bank of England carries out stress tests on banks, but is it time we stress tested the bankers themselves? That is the question asked by Thaslima Begun in The Independent
, who writes that “with ungodly work hours, volatile markets and towering expectations, there’s little doubt the finance sector demands a lot from those who work in it”.
Reflecting on a recent survey by the Bank Workers Charity
, which finds that 65% of employees work up to 30 hours more per week than contracted, while 42% have trouble relaxing and 60% admit to poor quality of sleep, she says: “It is no surprise that the current spike in male suicide dates from 2007 when the last banking crisis hit.”
Mental health can often be difficult to talk about, but perhaps more so with bankers due to the vulnerability it presents, writes Begun. She cites a 2014 Bupa report
, in which 94% of senior executives questioned admit there is a prejudice against those who experience mental illness.
But the article acknowledges that things are starting to change. The City Mental Health Alliance, for instance, has created a coalition of employers – including HSBC, Lloyds and UBS – that aims to promote a better understanding of mental health by removing the stigma attached to it.
However, the piece also quotes the head of workplace wellbeing for mental health charity Mind, Emma Mamo, who warns there is still a long way to go. “We believe City employers should see good mental health as critical, and getting senior management on board is crucial if we’re to see change,” emphasises Mamo.
The Independent article
Breaking the taboo
It is not just the financial services firms that need to change their attitudes towards mental health, though – a fact highlighted by a recent BBC News report by Philippa Goodrich.
She quotes Brian Heyworth, head of the client strategy business in HSBC's asset management arm, who suffered a psychiatric breakdown in early 2006. He said that it wasn’t just the industry he worked in that had a problem recognising his illness, but “society, the world in which [he] was operating, the country in which [he] was operating – it was taboo”. He acknowledges that progress has been made but says that "it is still quite taboo”.
In his efforts to help break that taboo, Heyworth has joined a network called Minds@Work
. One of its co-founders is Geoff McDonald, former vice-president of human resources at Unilever, who suffered his own bout of depression in 2008.
The percentage of employees who report working up to 30 hours more per week than their contracted hours
McDonald told Goodrich that there is a good business case for companies to be open about depression and anxiety: “More and more companies have got to start thinking about the wellbeing of their people as a way of ensuring that their people perform well.”
It is a message that a growing number of employers in the financial services sector are heeding. Goodrich reports that some companies, including Heyworth's employer, HSBC, now have wellbeing programmes in place.
BBC News story
The growing willingness among financial services firms to address mental health issues is also highlighted by Julia Bradshaw in The Telegraph
: “Increasingly, businesses are beginning to recognise the importance of taking care of their human capital. Companies have invested in corporate doctors, gyms, and healthy eating as a way of bringing the importance of physical health to the fore.”
Bradshaw adds that this shift in culture has been helped by high-profile cases that have increased awareness of the issues. She cites the case of Lloyds Banking Group CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio, who in 2011 went on temporary leave due to stress-related insomnia.
And when workers do suffer mental health problems, firms are getting better at supporting them, she says.
Bradshaw quotes a partner at commercial City law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, Samantha Brown, who says she was given lots of help from her employer when she suffered a breakdown at the start of last year.
“I wasn’t really aware what was happening to me. I became exceedingly tired, couldn’t sleep, felt teary, anxious about my work, to the point where I felt I was operating in a fog. I had lost my mental agility and I found that terrifying.”
She eventually sought help and was sent to a psychiatrist, spending time in a psychiatric hospital. This year, she has been working full time and she credits her office for being “brilliant, supportive and going over and beyond what was required”.
Herbert Smith Freehills has a network of mental health mentors and a 24-hour emergency helpline – another promising sign that mental health is moving up the boardroom agenda across the financial services sector.
The Telegraph article
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