‘Burnout’ is one of the year’s buzzwords, signifying an extreme type of work-related stress, where those affected experience physical and mental exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.

Employees may seek to struggle on as best they can, perhaps fearing the reaction of colleagues and whether they will be forced out should they admit to being unable to cope.

Yet burnout is also a business risk – employees who are under extreme strain are likely to under-perform and be more prone to making potentially serious errors.

Real health risks

They also run more risk of becoming physically as well as mentally ill for the long term if unsupported – health problems could include cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal problems in addition to stress and depression. Some also use alcohol or other drugs to try and deal with their problems or turn to gambling as a way of releasing pressure.

There may however be a perception that burnout is not prevalent within financial services and that it is far more likely to afflict those in jobs typically viewed as being highly pressurized such as the police, teaching or air traffic control.

However, outreach charity, Business in the Community recently found that financial services jobs were 44% more likely to cause a stress-related illness than the average job in the UK.

The survey, conducted with Mental Health First Aid, also found that some 64% of managers admitted to putting their organization’s interests above the wellbeing of employees.

Early intervention

Clearly, there is a role for better understanding of mental health issues and for realization that early intervention may well help ensure someone recovers faster than if problems are allowed to worsen.

Arguably, the financial services sector is at present akin to a pressure cooker in terms of workplace stress. Externally, there are the uncertainties of Brexit and how this will impact on what is one of the UK’s key economic powerhouses.

Internally, there are tighter regulatory constraints with the arrival of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime, which raises standards considerably when it comes to personal responsibility.

So, against this background it’s important that the risk team are supporting relevant line managers and departments such as HR, in the management of risks and appropriate controls.

There could well be a case to put forward for optimum staffing levels and rather than seeking to economize with lean teams taking on too much in terms of workloads and responsibility.

There may also be a greater requirement for firms to look at whether they do need to offer their staff access to services such as counseling and other mental health support.

Another survey focused on the financial services sector, from health insurance provider Westfield Health, found that some 70% of employees did not believe the NHS had enough budget for wellbeing services, which is something many wanted to access.

Indeed, some 50% said that banking and wider financial services were not doing enough to promote physical and mental wellbeing such as health check-ups, cognitive behavioral therapy and chiropractic treatment. A majority (74%) also did not believe their employer was specifically doing enough to help them deal with work-related stress, anxiety and other mental health issues.

So it could also well be time for unexpected absences to be assessed – are mental health conditions behind more of these than are initially realized?

A mental health strategy should mean line managers are trained to offer empathetic and constructive support. This is also a company culture matter – if employees feel they cannot come forward, speak in confidence and be offered appropriate help then the real reasons for poor performance and absence will continue unabated.

World Mental Health Day – which took place on 10 October – seeks to raise awareness and reduce stigma. But the message needs to be ongoing – burnout is on the rise and it will take more than free fruit or subsidized gym memberships to tackle it.