Improving mental health in financial services: is it just a matter of culture change?

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The financial services industry is realizing that it is facing a mental health crisis. Several recent studies have set out to explore the impact of COVID-19 on the financial services industry and have found that the pandemic has only exacerbated a pre-existing condition.

Ten years ago, an article explored the seven most prevalent mental disorders in financial services as reported by psychologists. Depression topped the list, which also included psychogenic pain, perfectionism, and panic disorder.

The financial services industry is known for its demanding schedules and heavy workloads. In a perhaps extreme example, a Goldman Sachs study on working conditions conducted last year found that first-year analysts worked about 100 hours per week on 5 hours of sleep per night. Not surprisingly, these respondents indicated that the rigors of their work had a negative impact on their physical and mental health.

The pandemic has added other stressors into the mix, including isolation during remote work, loneliness and difficulty in drawing a line between personal time and work time, according to the American Psychiatric Association. An APA survey found employers were generally more accommodating of employee mental health issues during the pandemic, but employees across all industries remain reluctant to speak openly about workplace mental health and fear retaliation. they ask for help or are absent due to mental health problems.

For those working in the financial sector, the stressors of the pandemic have multiplied. Many experts have pointed to the link between money and mental health during the pandemic. This has tasked financial services professionals with looking after their own mental health while helping their clients manage their mental health issues related to financial disruption.

According Aon Global Wellbeing SurveyEmployee burnout and poor mental health due to remote work cultures and a climate of growing economic uncertainty is one of the top risks facing the financial services industry today.

The study found that the top wellbeing risks impacting business performance in the financial sector in the wake of the pandemic were stress (67%), burnout (46%) and anxiety (37%). The study pointed to increased workload and long working hours as contributing factors. However, the study noted that financial services professionals were already operating in a highly pressured environment even before the pandemic.

The Institute of Banking Administration surveyed its members last year about the impact of the pandemic and found that while it hasn’t had much of an impact on career development and has even had a positive impact on work/life balance personal despite an increased workload, it had a negative impact on physical and mental health.

In fact, the survey indicates that mental health has been the most affected in the sector. The report encourages companies in the financial services sector to continue to encourage work-life balance, providing flexibility in where and when work is done and extending the benefits of advisory services across the goal of eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health.

The study also recommends modeling work/life balance at the highest level by limiting communication after hours and encouraging breaks and time off to prevent burnout.

In its report, Aon said the pandemic represents a line in the sand delineating a pivotal moment in the evolution of business operations and working practices. While companies have been laser-focused on building business resilience during the pandemic, they may have missed the opportunity to build resilience among their employees.

Creating a culture that supports psychological well-being will become increasingly important in the financial industry, Aon said.

Some financial services companies have started offering mental health first aid training to help people deal with burnout before it gets worse. The report encourages employers to go further by providing opportunities to help employees overcome personal and professional challenges and working to reduce the stigma around mental health issues.

“When organizations demonstrate their commitment to supporting the well-being of their employees in a meaningful way, it sets the tone for the entire organization,” the report says.

Kristen Beckman is a Colorado-based freelance writer. She was previously the editor and managing editor of ALM’s Retirement Advisor magazine and the online channel LifeHealthPro. She was also a reporter for Business Insurance magazine, covering workers’ compensation topics. Kristen graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism.


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