The numbers of Financial Conduct Authority staff receiving counselling for “work or external stress” tripled during the first year of a pandemic which has prompted a spike in mental ill-health amongst City workers.
Just under 60 employees at the UK’s markets watchdog sought free counselling for stress-related matters in the 12 months to February 2021, up from from 21 in the year to February 2020 , according to a response to a Freedom of Information request by Financial News.
The regulator doubled its spending on initiatives to boost employee morale over the same time period, spending about £12,304 in the year to March 2021 on morale-boosting initiatives up from £6,477 in the 12 months to March 2020, according to a separate response to an FOI by FN.
It comes as the Covid-19 crisis prompted a spike in stress amongst City workers, with many reporting longer hours at work.
Charles Randell, the chair of the FCA said on 15 July, alongside the release of the regulator’s latest annual report, that the past 12 months had been “a challenging year for everyone – the people we serve, the industry we regulate, and all of us at the Financial Conduct Authority”.
The FCA also boosted its spend on initiatives to support its employees’ wellbeing by 50% to total around £22,118 in the year to March 2021, up from a spend of about £15,636 in the previous year, FN’s FOI response said.
These included adding a “wellbeing hub” to its intranet with resources designed to help FCA staff manage stress, isolation and anxiety, running mental health awareness sessions, wellbeing sessions and training employees at the regulator as so-called “mental health first aiders”, the FCA said in its FOI response.
The percentage of FCA employees citing stress when calling in sick dropped slightly over the same period from 11.4% of 24,293 sick days in 2020 to 9.7% of 321 sick days in the first two months of 2021, according to an FOI request by FN.
An FCA spokesperson told FN: “We have invested, and continue to invest, in this area. The pandemic has posed a number of challenges for our people.”
“Our interventions to support them during this period are helping to decrease stress-related absence,” the spokesperson added.
FN reported in June that the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, spent just over £2,000 on three bank-wide initiatives to support its employees’ wellbeing over the same time period.
A Bank of England spokesperson told FN in June that its employees’ well being had “long been an extremely important priority for the Bank, and no less so during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
City firms have been forced to give renewed focus to the mental wellbeing of their junior ranks in recent months in the wake of a stinging presentation by a group of Goldman Sachs analysts in March, outlining 100-hour weeks and declining physical and mental health.
In a February survey of senior finance executives by Financial News, 60% of respondents said Covid has made their lives more stressful, while 42% said the crisis, as well as Brexit, has made them reconsider their careers.
Data analytics company PQ, meanwhile, analysed the heart rates of around 40 London-based senior execs at 10 finance firms, including asset managers, investment banks, insurance companies and private equity firms. It found that more than 50% of senior execs averaged more than 10 hours of stress a day. However, they had less than two hours of daily recovery or downtime, including weekends and meal times.
Andrew Macdonald, the founder of PQ, said that a weekly average of three hours of recovery time would be a healthier average.