The number of days lost to stress-related absence has risen to the highest level since the 2008 crisis, according to research from Fox & Partners just published to mark Stress Awareness Month. Based on data that pre-dates the COVID-19 crisis, the firm warns that the impact is likely to be even higher this year as the effects of the crisis play out, and that firms should urgently consider wellbeing ‘action plans’.

Read coverage of this research in Personnel Today, Private Equity News, and Financial News, and the full release is below:

Stress-related absences in financial services rises to highest level since 2008

  • Employees struggling to disconnect from work

  • Increasing regulatory scrutiny contributing to higher stress levels

  • The COVID-situation is very likely to intensify stress levels

The number of stress-related absences in financial services in the last year rose to the highest level since the financial crisis in 2008, says Fox & Partners, the employment and partnership law specialists.

The average number of working days lost per worker each year in financial services due to stress increased to 0.54 days between 2016/17 and 2018/19, up 8% from 0.5 between 2013/14 and 2015/16* (see graph below).

Stress-related absences are having a significant impact on employers, with poor mental health costing financial services firms an estimated £3,245 per employee in lost revenues last year**.

Fox & Partners says the historical rise is partly driven by high levels of stress in the financial services industry due to heavy workloads, the emotional load of high pressure decision-making and working with challenging people. An “always on” culture and changes to working patterns, such as the wider use of smart phones, has meant many employees are increasingly struggling to disconnect from work.

Fox & Partners adds that intensifying regulatory scrutiny has further contributed to rising stress levels for some individuals in financial services. The recent extension of the Senior Managers’ Regime to all financial services firms has increased the number of senior individuals that could face severe penalties for failures at their firms.

The COVID-19 situation, which has introduced massive uncertainty and is causing tremendous anxiety across the working population, is very likely to intensify stress, particularly as resource becomes increasingly stretched.  Those employers who do not take wellbeing seriously – ensuring senior management spot and support mental health issues – face legal risks under health and safety legislation and personal injury law, as well as potential discrimination claims if employees with mental health issues are subjected to detriments.

Ivor Adair, Partner at Fox & Partners, says: “Rising stress levels amongst City workers suggests the industry is still struggling to tackle its intense working culture.”

“Mental health has risen up the agenda in the City. Despite growing awareness of the negative side effects heavy workloads can have on employees’ mental wellbeing, the problem has got worse.  The enormous uncertainties caused by COVID-19 situation might make 2020 the most stressful year in a generation.  With so many working remotely in a state of anxiety, staff well-being ought to be part of any business survival plan.”

What steps are employers in financial services taking to reduce stress?

Fox & Partners says employers in financial services are increasingly taking steps to reduce stress in the workplace. Examples of possible measures include:

  • Develop and implement a well-being action plan – encourage people to switch off when they leave the office
  • Encourage a culture which demonstrates a genuine commitment to wellbeing and destigmatizes mental health issues – set the tone from the top
  • Employ professional mental health first aiders to help staff deal with stress
  • Develop apps to help staff determine if they are suffering from mental health problems and provide access to private doctors via video link
  • Inform staff of the mental health support services they offer and available generally

The average number of working days lost per worker in financial services due to stress-related illness rises to highest level in a decade

*Source: Health and Safety Executive, measured in three-year periods

**Source: Deloitte, Mental health and employers refreshing the case for investment