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It is an uncomfortable truth that those who work in financial services must pay a stress premium. An analysis by employment law firm Fox & Partners of Health and Safety Executive figures has shown that the number of working days lost per worker, per year, in financial services because of stress is 31 per cent higher than the average between 2007 and 2010.
A Banking Standards Board study this year of wellbeing revealed that a quarter of employees in the City of London felt their job was having a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. Worryingly, that number has remained constant for the past three years.
Stress is something everyone experiences and in itself is not an illness. However, there are links between stress and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and psychosis. As an industry, financial services has a responsibility to address this complex problem. The following three steps, while by no means guaranteed to be a solution, could help reduce the stress premium.
Number one: talk about it. Those who treat being open about mental health as a sign of weakness are behind the times. It is a view that only strengthens the taboo that surrounds the topic.
Number two: after recognising the problem, address it by investing in employees.
It is easy to talk about striking a healthy work-life balance, but these messages have to be underpinned by tangible support services and a robust infrastructure if we are to address mental health issues meaningfully.
At BNP Paribas, our approach has been to develop a care network that includes a publicly accessible website detailing the support services on offer. We have coached mental health first-aiders and, working with Mental Health First Aid England, have introduced line-manager training.
We provide access to private doctors for our 9,000-plus UK workforce, in person or by audio or video link, as well as an app-based diagnostic tool for staff and their families. We have also expanded our medical scheme to cover chronic mental health conditions, and have integrated mental health in our screening programmes. Employees in our London offices can refer themselves to psychological services. There is more to do, no doubt, but a core structure is now in place to help staff achieve a better work-life balance.
Number three: make positive engagement with mental health a point of competitive advantage with other industries — sectors that financial services is competing for talent with, such as technology.
All this is against a backdrop of the serious mental health concerns of the next generation. A 2018 City Mental Health Alliance study of job-seeking graduates and students in the UK found 69 per cent had suffered some form of mental health problem; almost one in five said they had self-harmed. The number of undergraduates reporting mental ill-health has increased fivefold since 2010 from 0.6 per cent to 3.1 per cent, according to the Office for Students, England’s higher-education regulator.
When BNP Paribas welcomed its new intake of graduates in September, it included for the first time as part of its induction programme an “Adapt and Thrive” workshop to teach coping skills and stress-reduction methods. We ran a similar “Mental Health and Wellness” session for our interns in August. Some 75 per cent considered corporate culture around productivity and mental health to be an important factor when choosing a job.
The message from the next generation is clear: mental health matters.
Many people question the purpose of the City of London. While we do many good things, such as contributing to economic growth or helping secure the futures of millions who have invested in pensions, this is not enough if society is to recognise financial services as being truly responsible.
As an industry we can break from the past by championing good mental health, breaking taboos and working collectively to establish meaningful support networks. In so doing, we will be addressing what threatens to become one of the defining problems of our industry and our time, and that of the next generation.
Anne Marie Verstraeten, UK country head, BNP Paribas Group
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