The stigma surrounding mental illness has diminished in recent years, leading employees to become more open with their employers in times of need. However, these issues continue to be rife amongst employees in the financial sector, who are still likely to struggle in silence.
Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs came under scrutiny for subjecting young employees to burnout, as they were made to work extensive hours at the expense of their mental health. Although the firm has responded by granting their employees a pay rise, this incident sparked a new debate about what measures can be taken by investment banks to ensure the wellbeing of their employees.
The standards for a healthy workplace have been increasing over the years, with more of a focus on mental wellbeing than ever before.
The lifestyle of an investment banker can prove demanding and at times, emotionally taxing even. Although the importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace is becoming increasingly recognised, values such as ‘productivity’ or ‘resilience’, and their prioritisation over mental health, has been detrimental for employees in the past, often leading to high rates of absenteeism and employee turnover.
Jaime Blaustein, a former investment banker at Credit Suisse, was in recovery from addiction. In efforts to reverse the poor state of the mental health climate within the investment banking world, he recently set up a mental health treatment centre for Wall Street financiers, a significant step in illustrating that struggling investment bankers do not have to suffer alone.
What are the type of issues investment bankers deal with?
Financial service workers experience severe mental health issues, which have become exacerbated in the aftermath of COVID. 24% of UK sole traders plan to take zero holiday days in the next 12 months, to compensate for lost time and productivity during the pandemic.br>
A recent report uncovered that 17% of workers at financial services firms are struggling to get to grips with new ways of working and 23% are becoming more anxious about work. In fact, financial services workers were said to be most likely to see their mental health negatively affected by the pandemic – according to a 2021 survey, a staggering half (52%) said their mental health had worsened in the last year.
Moreover, these issues appear to be more prolific among women working in finance – according to a CISI survey, only 52% of women said that they felt confident about talking to their managers about work stress, as opposed to 59% of men. This disparity has become more prominent during this era of working at home, as many women have had to balance the pressure of work with family responsibilities, leading them to take on extra hours to make up for lost time.
The newly coined phenomenon of ‘pleasanteeism’ describes the feeling that employees must put on a mask whilst at work. Over half of UK workers, not just in the financial industry, feel as though they must adopt this in order to be perceived as ‘strong’. Too great an emphasis on productivity can be counterintuitive, as it can actually backfire and lead to burnout.
What can employers do to tackle this?
Managers need to place greater emphasis on the importance of taking a break and prioritising mental wellbeing. For example, regular mental health workshops should become a normality.
Most importantly, managers in the financial sector should work towards cultivating close relationships with their employees, to ensure that their staff feel comfortable about coming to them for help or advice.
As women have been disproportionately affected by working from home, companies should ensure that their female employees are receiving adequate healthcare support, which would also, as a bonus, increase return-to-work rate and worker loyalty.
However, on a more global level, companies in developing countries might struggle to acquire funding for better mental health services for their workers. Even in the age of COVID, where the issue of social isolation and depression is particularly relevant, the topic of mental health itself still remains a taboo in countries such as India, where it is less likely to be recognised as a health concern, and where employees themselves might be in denial that they are suffering.
Although mental health has been largely destigmatised in the Western world, more work is required to ensure that this standard is met elsewhere. A significant first step towards this would be to introduce mental health experts into the workplace, to provide professional help to employees, says Financial Express.
Whilst we are on the right track towards destigmatising mental health in the workplace, it is evident that more needs to be done to support both budding and established investment bankers.