Financial sector and lockdown
Just over a year ago, Coronavirus (Covid-19) started the change the world forever. In March 2020, the UK was thrown into a lockdown. This followed countries in Europe that acted quicker under mounting pressure, to safeguard populations from this deadly virus.
Now it looks as though we have a tentative roadmap out of this. Vaccines are being rolled out rapidly. There is a possible timescale for when the country can slowly, carefully, contingent on the data, reopen.
Many sectors have struggled as a result of this pandemic.
Given the scale of impact this has had on the global economy, the financial sector has struggled more than others.
Banks are laying off staff. Profits are down, in some cases dramatically, compared to previous years. In the UK, Brexit has caused significant disruption and damage, forcing banks to relocate to Europe, potentially permanently.
In this scary and unprecedented mix of circumstances: Pandemic, Brexit, Recession, is there any wonder why those in the financial sector are struggling with their personal and collective mental health?
Covid-19 impact on mental health and mental health support
Everyone’s mental health has suffered. Everyone has missed family and friends, normal life, and the simple things.
Millions are missing going places other than supermarkets, and planning for the future, such as going on holiday, or anything fun, until this situation is under control.
It’s worth remembering that nothing comparable, on this scale, has happened to humanity in over 100 years. There have been other viruses that have infected and killed in large numbers, but nothing this devastating has spread across the world like this since the Spanish Flu, also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic. It infected 500 million at the time, a third of the world’s population, and killing between 17 and 100 million between 1918 and 1920.
Nothing comparable has happened since, and so everyone, including scientists when this started, is in uncharted territory. So yes, this is a shared experience. Albeit one that is not affecting everyone in society the same way. And of course, those who’ve lost loved ones are suffering even more. The pandemic is something that none of us can escape until the virus is under control.
But for the moment, and easily for the next 6 months, we are all living and working under similar circumstances as the previous 12. Fortunately, there is light at the end of the dark tunnel.
Now when we look at the financial sector, in particular, the pandemic is having a worrying impact on everyone’s mental health. Especially when we factor in a recession and Brexit, causing massive job losses.
Mental health support in the financial sector
A Reuters article about mental health: is that normal for the financial sector?
Generally speaking, no. Not until this pandemic. Mental health is something that the sector was starting to take more seriously, but not in the same way as other industries.
Now we see the following as the opening line in a Reuters article on this topic: “From a burned-out bank boss to call centre workers isolated at home, the financial sector is suffering a surge in mental health issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In a surprisingly open note to 48,500 staff, Susan Revell, deputy chair of the $41 trillion asset Bank of New York Mellon’s Europe, Middle East and Africa business said “It’s okay to feel overwhelmed by what life is throwing at me and mine.” Revell went onto say, “You can’t pour from an empty cup. If I’m not in good shape then I can’t support either my family or my colleagues.”
Financial services in the UK
Financial Services in the UK is a massive sector. It employs 1.1 million people, which is 3.2% of UK employment, and contributes £132 billion to the economy, worth 6.9% of total economic output, according to a House of Commons report. Half of the jobs are in London and the South East. This is where many could be lost if the impact of Brexit continues. It could force banks to relocate to Europe and Asia, as is looking likely with HSBC.
Businesses in this sector are weathering the storm, although tens of thousands of jobs will be lost in the next year. That itself is causing massive stress and uncertainty for staff, especially in managerial roles in London and the South East.
Banks are doing a lot more than before this to provide enhanced mental health support. Working from home (WFH), particularly for those with children, is causing significant strain. Managers are being trained to ask staff how they are doing and watch out for body language signals.
New mental health initiatives were launched by some banks last year. NatWest, Lloyds, Monzo, and BNY were mentioned in the Reuters article as providing more support, such as virtual yoga, “tea and talk” sessions, use of the meditation app Headspace, and online therapy.
Now is the time to look into providing as much mental health support as possible.
Unlike one bank, that apparently fired a customer service team member for taking longer than 1 minute between calls, according to the trade union, Unite. UK KPMG chairman, Bill Michael, also took the wrong approach to the current situation, when he told staff to “stop moaning” about the pandemic. He resigned soon after those comments were published in the FT.
The right approach is to allow staff a break. Give them time off, to recover from the overwhelming difficulty of what we are all living through. Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind said: “Providing staff with some downtime to rest and recuperate is absolutely vital and can prevent worsening stress, poor mental health, sickness absence, and even falling out of the workplace altogether in the long run.”
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