Intermediaries concerned about their mental wellbeing increases almost threefold: Health crisis has finally brought discussions about mental health into the open



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Last week, Bridging & Commercial collaborated with Crystal Specialist Finance (CSF) to host a virtual roundtable on the importance of improving awareness of mental health and wellbeing in financial services.

The discussion was chaired by Medianett editor Beth Fisher, who was joined by Jason Berry, group sales and marketing director at CSF; Paula Purdy, intermediary sales manager for the North division at Together; Scott Howitt, sales director at Chartwell Mortgage Services; Gavin Seaholme, head of sales at Shawbrook Bank; and Andrew Montlake, managing director at Coreco.

During the event, the results of CSF’s latest mental health and wellbeing survey were exclusively revealed, uncovering the common challenges the specialist finance industry is facing and how they can be tackled.

According to the data, on average, 17% of intermediaries worked 60 hours or more per week (at least 12 hours per day), which is up from 12% from CSF’s first survey in August 2020. 

Jason said that the sector is “very industrious” and thinks the figures are influenced by the stamp duty holiday and surging pipelines in recent months.

“While that might be great from an income perspective and there are clients out there that we inevitably need to service, the percentages suggest that one in five are working 60-plus hours,” he added. “I don’t think the trend is a particularly healthy one, but it’s almost inevitable.”

He suggests that ‘making every day count’ is a trait that is “engrained” within the broker community. 

With many now working from home, the panel largely agreed that this has caused extended working hours. 

“The working day has completely shifted,” Paula commented. “You have to be quite strict with yourself, otherwise you find you’re working 12–13-hour days without really realising it.”

She considers that the multitude of new ways to communicate, and the fact that less time has been spent out on the road, have resulted in a trend of people expecting speedier responses.

While Paula hopes to see a change in this stat, she doesn’t anticipate much change until the latter part of 2021/early 2022, when more people go back to the office. 

The survey found that 15% of intermediaries took zero days of holiday last year. 

With much of 2020 experiencing restrictions and lockdowns, it is clear that it has been more challenging for brokers to switch off and use up their accrued holiday.

“There’s been no sustained period of time where someone’s taken a week or two off and shut down and relaxed, and that does take its toll,” Andrew commented. “Together with the longer working hours, that is a concern for me.”

He believes that the sector has “lost sight” of what a normal working day is, and it will be an interesting transition back to normality once we take into account the time to commute, fitting in lunch and conversing with people in the office, and how the current workload will fit into that. 

Jason also pointed out that HR departments encouraging staff to take time off but without being able to go anywhere because of lockdown was slightly “counterintuitive” and “a little bit contradictory” when it comes to improving mental health and wellbeing. 

When rating their overall level of mental wellbeing, 18% of intermediaries said it was “of concern” — almost three times higher than intermediaries surveyed last year.

Andrew suggested that the health crisis has finally brought discussions about mental health like this out into the open. “These figures are no surprise. If anything, they’re not as high as they could have been, which is actually a positive thing.” 

With the route out of lockdown in motion, Jason said that these figures show how wrong it is to assume that wellbeing is improving and shines a light on how important the topic of mental health is for the sector. 

The data also revealed that 90% of intermediaries didn’t take a sick day related to their mental health in 2020 and 73% reported that their company doesn’t currently participate in any mental health and wellbeing strategy. 

“A real focus for me moving forward with the campaign is to change these statistics and ensure that more employers are participating and trying to deliver group and individual solutions that can help people who are struggling,” Jason emphasised. 

Shawbrook has introduced mental health first aiders, and implemented employee assistance programmes, wellbeing clinics and motivational weeks. “The bank has been very supportive to their employees throughout all of this,” Gavin said, urging more companies to embrace it.

“This is something that people don’t talk about and can’t see, so to have the ability to be able to support people, especially in a corporate structure, it’s a phenomenal thing and an effort that every corporation should be doing, fundamentally.” 

Scott stated that the sooner the stigma currently attached to mental health is put to bed, the better. “People generally have difficulty talking about it, because you’re almost admitting a frailty and vulnerability. I can tell you, because I have done it myself, that by admitting it and going through the process of talking about it, the other side looks 100% better.”

The conversation also delved into ways to boost workplace wellbeing, how companies should approach a return to office working while keeping in mind employees’ individual circumstances, as well as how employers can encourage an open dialogue when it comes to mental health.

The full roundtable can be viewed below. 

The virtual roundtable is part of CSF’s ongoing mental health and wellbeing campaign, which aims to help individuals in the sector identify and take the necessary steps to overcome isolation, stress, grief, financial worries and fears about the future.

The brokerage has also launched a series of  interviews in which 12 key industry personnel talk openly about personal challenges and mental health matters.

The first three interviews with Scott Howitt, Andrew Montlake and Jeremy Duncombe, director of mortgage distribution at Yorkshire Building Society and managing director at Accord, are available to watch on the CSF YouTube channel.

Viewers will be advised that some of the videos contain references to grief and suicide.

Mind, the mental health charity which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, has a confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am - 6pm, Monday – Friday).

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

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