With a new Priory clinic opening in the Square Mile, can big hitters still cope with their fast-paced lifestyles?
Successful professionals may have exorbitant salaries, four-storey houses in Notting Hill and holiday homes in Monaco, but behind frosted executive windows, many are struggling to cope with life in the City. The Priory rehabilitation clinic – the go-to treatment spot for A- to Z-list celebrities – has opened its first psychotherapy centre in between City of London office buildings. Global firms are still rebuilding their confidence post-financial crisis and, as the working hours stack up, it seems many employees are buckling from the strain.
The Priory’s psychotherapy centre will largely focus on depression, stress and anxiety – three intertwined mental health issues that have recently had a high-profile impact on City firms. In 2011, the chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta-Osório, was diagnosed with extreme fatigue and stress just eight months after starting the job. Last year, Sir Hector Sants resigned from Barclays after taking sick leave for “exhaustion and stress”.
The stress doesn’t just hit those at the top of the profession, but trickles down to junior employees who face demanding targets and 20-hour working days. In August last year, a 21-year-old intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch died of epilepsy after working until 6am for three consecutive days. An inquest heard that Moritz Erhardt’s seizure could have been triggered by fatigue.
Tony Urwin, occupational psychologist and managing director of the new Fenchurch Street centre, said that The Priory interviewed 355 people before launch. Mental health strain in the city, she says, is getting worse.
“People are certainly telling us it’s worse than it’s ever been and there’s more demand for help and support,” he says. “Before the banking crisis, things were very buoyant. It’s now a tougher market and there are tougher targets – people are under more pressure now than before the crisis.”
One in six employees face stress, depression or anxiety, according to Mind, the mental health charity, which has found that the long hours and unsupportive culture in the City can lead to “unmanageable stress”. Many employees work late into the night on high-pressure deals. Unsympathetic senior managers say because they went through the same ordeal to reach their position, they expect their junior employees to do the same. “They’re not open to listening to people saying, ‘I’m not coping, I’m finding this really difficult’,” says Urwin. “They think that they went through it and others should to.”
Problem Gambling in the Financial Services Sector and other mental health issues are also exacerbated by the high-achieving individuals who are attracted to the pressurised jobs. “They’re used to being very successful and when things start to go wrong, that’s very difficult for them to accept and tell the other successful and motivated people around them,” says Urwin.
There’s still a stigma attached to mental health, and some workplaces view depression and anxiety as a weakness – a recent Mind survey found that 95 per cent of those who took time off work because of stress did not tell their employer the real reason for their absence. But according to the Centre for Mental Health, mental health issues are very real among the UK workforce, costing employers £26bn every year through sick days, lower productivity and recruitment costs.
Some major firms have started to treat their employees’ mental wellbeing more seriously, yet there is no sign of City firms lightening the workload. Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, says there are still ways to manage stress even within a challenging work environment.
City firms, Mamo says, are moving to create good mental health and prevent breakdowns, rather than helping someone recover post-crisis. As more people speak out, younger employees are slowly getting reassurance that suffering for stress won’t damage their career prospects later on. John Binns, a former senior partner at Deloitte, argues that his experience of poor mental health means that he now knows what triggers to avoid and how to stay healthy.
High-pressure workplaces including Deloitte, Clifford Chance and Goldman Sachs have set up the City Mental Health Alliance to promote a better understanding of mental health within the City and Peter Rogers, chairman of the alliance, says that more people are starting to talk about mental health within the workplace. At accountancy firm Deloitte, for example, several senior partners are “mental health champions” who can support and reassure employees with mental health issues. Meanwhile, employees at Barclays feature in mental health videos that are shown to all staff – “it’s all about storytelling,” says Rogers.
But while City firms are certainly paying more of a lip service to mental health issues, it remains to be seen how much will practically change. There are 15 counsellors and psychotherapists who will be supporting stressed-out professionals at the City Priory centre – and they can expect to be busy for a long while yet.