The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted many current mental health struggles in people all over the world, but recently there has been a particular focus on the financial service industry and the difficulties people face in the sector. With Tom Blomfield recently stepping down from Monzo in order to prioritise his mental health, as well as other instances, the sector is growing more and more concerned about this exacerbating problem.
Sophie Scholes is Head of UK Financial Services Practice and the EMEA Banking sector at Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search leader. With 20 years of experience, Sophie advises clients on succession planning, leadership assessment, and both executive and non-executive appointments and is also a member of the CEO & Board of Directors Practice working with both corporate and financial services clients.
Here she shares her thoughts on mental health within the financial sector.
It goes without saying that the pandemic has brought on, and exacerbated, mental health issues for many people both in financial services and beyond. Alongside this, there is a growing sensitivity among leaders and senior management in financial services regarding staff with mental health or wellbeing issues and this is expected not only to continue but to also be a requirement for leaders in the industry.
Senior leaders in financial services are undoubtedly being more open about mental health which has led to a growing awareness of the topic generally. This has been initiated by financial services leaders discussing their own mental health challenges more openly, from Tom Blomfield of Monzo through to Jayne-Anne Gadhia, regarding her experiences at Virgin.
The media, as well as employees, are also applauding management teams who are vocal in their advocacy for this issue and are more likely to hold those leaders who discriminate on the basis of mental health to account. Certain Boards have also been seen to be more aware and supportive of the mental health pressures on CEOs in financial services.
Examples of senior leadership opening up about mental health difficulties are hugely influential and helpful, however, people who are still en route to proving themselves in their career, those lower down the ladder, are hesitant to bring up such issues.
In recruitment processes where support for mental health issues isn’t explicitly stated, candidates are nervous to self-identify and, the reality is, most would choose not to. There is a place for assessment processes that combine analytical rigour with creating a safe environment for candidates to discuss such issues more openly, and what they have been able to learn from them. Whether this is a formal criterion, however, very much depends on individual leaders and the culture of the institution.
On an industry-wide basis, mental health sensitivity skills are not yet a central prerequisite for management candidates, but this is rapidly evolving. In Heidrick & Struggles’ executive search programmes, for instance, we are increasingly emphasising the crucial importance of this component, particularly in financial services, with a focus on candidates who demonstrate the capacity to build mental wellbeing into the fabric of an organisation’s culture and who have a track record of emotionally intelligent leadership.
Certainly, companies are becoming more receptive to and understanding of mental health as well as building inclusive teams. Dealing with mental health is now more frequently considered an organisational reality, as opposed to it being thought of as an operational risk.
It has been hugely encouraging to see many financial services leaders, at CEO level and below, proactively support mental health during the pandemic. Human Resource professionals specifically have also become increasingly responsible for the physical and emotional health of employees and the employee experience generally.
While it has taken time to achieve what we have with mental health understanding, the pandemic certainly seems to have accelerated the overall acceptance of mental health in this industry. Things are moving forward in the right direction and this should continue into the future.