The finance sector is renowned for its brutal hours, challenging lifestyle, and the enormous compensation that comes with it. In recent years, it has also repeatedly come under the spotlight for failing to acknowledge the dramatic effect of the job on employee mental health.
A group of 13 first-year analysts at global investment bank Goldman Sachs recently published a survey online detailing their gruelling experience at the firm. The results revealed an average of 95-plus hours a week, total dissatisfaction with their social lives (due to work), and a staggering 77 percent admitting to being a victim of workplace abuse.
It says a lot that these analysts are campaigning to “only” work past midnight for “truly urgent” projects and to have a maximum 80-hour work week — still more than double the national average.
Of course this scenario isn’t representative of all teams with Goldman Sachs, and certainly isn’t limited to one firm. The deep-rooted toxic work culture and the sentiment of earning that blockbuster paycheck is an inherent problem across financial services.
While it’s not a comprehensive list, we’ve looked at three areas where finance firms could make a significant impact in improving the lives and mental wellbeing of their employees.
Acknowledging the problem and its real effects
Research by Deloitte (the world’s largest professional services network) suggests that bucking these deeply-ingrained work cultures will be very difficult, since they’ve got long, deep roots at these institutions.
The biggest challenge to protecting employee mental health is that it must come from the top, from those few who survived the sleepless nights, fractured relationships, and repeated burnout and bouts of depression. If they did it, the reasoning goes, so should those trying to follow in their footsteps.
Even if a directive comes from senior management to focus on mental health, employees still depend on their specific managers and leadership teams to put the hours into it — hours they probably don’t have, because they’re overworked.
It’s 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. These companies need to mean it.
Ending the stigma around mental health discussion
Many employees in financial services understand they’re going in for a hard ride. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to put in long hours, work hard, grind, and climb a ladder — that’s a brilliant driver for many people.
But workplace culture prevents employees from having healthy discussions about how tiring and hard it is. Across all industries, one-third of workers are concerned that they will face some kind of retaliation for seeking mental help — the situation is even more dire in financial services.
A huge proportion of finance workers would never comment on how tired they were, or how outrageous a client was acting, or whether something was giving them anxiety. The reason? Fear of job security.
If we can transform the workplace into a safe zone where people can acknowledge and discuss these things in a constructive way, knowing they won’t get fired or thrown off certain projects for talking about it, it helps the employees get weights off their chests, builds a sense of oneness and camaraderie, and helps the firm move forward.
Introducing and standing by new policy
Issues of diversity and inclusion are absolutely paramount in this conversation. It isn’t easy to implement on a global scale, but if finance firms can demonstrate that the many contrasting needs of its employees (due to religion, beliefs, disability, political views) are being met, it will distinguish itself and attract more talent that will build on this progress.
Policy around mental and physical health, communications, and work hours could also have a transformative impact on the day-to-day lives of workers. It’s not the headline-grabbing changes we expect from today’s media, but rather the planting of seeds which take root slowly, pushing out the toxic weeds.
Companies can also use their positive engagement with mental health as a competitive advantage over other firms and industries—done correctly, this could be worth at least as much to new prospects as salary or benefits.
Addressing mental health doesn’t even need to be an empathetic decision—it can be a raw financial one. Research from Loch Associates in the UK found that the average return on every £1 spent on mental health was £4.20. The CEO of Deloitte UK mirrored this sentiment, stating that, “Recognizing that championing mental health and supporting employees makes good business sense and that inaction comes at a demonstrable cost.”
We also cannot pretend that any change in these companies exists in a vacuum. If we protect employees by cutting hours, then the company can’t deliver results in the expected timeframe of clients, so those expectations need to change. What if that opens them up to undercutting by competition?
It will be decades before today’s entry-level bankers and accountants (with their new-age views on mental health and workplace culture) are at the helm as CEOs and decision makers. But knowing that as many as 58% of business leaders do not truly know what their responsibilities are with regard to employee mental health, we can’t afford change to come so slowly.
There’s a lot of talk from big financial institutions about making change, being aware of mental health challenges, and being self-aware of their own culture. If these claims are real, and they’re backed up by real action, it might not be long before we see massive cultural shifts take root and the harsh world of financial services becomes that much lighter for its people.