More than two thirds (67%) of senior-level decision makers at financial institutions say they would consider quitting their jobs within the next year if stress levels do not improve, according to research by MetLife.
Two out of five of every five banking executives describe their job as “extremely stressful.”
And yet most people either try to ignore the problem, or only deal with it after they’ve reached their breaking point. In another study by Capita Employee Benefits, 75% of respondents had been seriously stressed by work related issue in the last 12 months, but only 20% had taken time off to deal with it. 49% said they would still go to work while ill to avoid having work stack up in their absence, even though 70% believe they are less productive if they come into work when sick. 44% of those in the study said they know a colleague who had given up work due to stress.
Despite the high levels of stress — and the depression that comes along with it — most banking executives feel like they had better keep quiet and not complain. In MetLife’s survey, 70% of respondents said they believe that admitting to suffering from anxiety or mental health issues would have negative consequences at work.
“A significant taboo still exists,” says Tom Gaynor, a spokesperson at MetLife. “Employees think that talking about their mental health will damage their career prospects.”
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Micromanaging Employees Can Kill Them
Work-related stress is a serious issue. A study from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, which tracked 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s over a seven-year period found that people in highly demanding jobs with little control over their workflow were 15.4% more likely to die during the study period vs. those in less demanding jobs.
“These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making,” said Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the Kelley School and the study’s lead author.
Gonzalez-Mulé said the study’s results don’t suggest that managers need to cut back on what is expected from employees. However, there could be value in restructuring some roles to give employees more say about how the work gets done.
“You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision-making and the like,” he said. “Give employees a voice in the goal-setting process, so when you’re telling someone what they’re going to do, it’s more of a two-way conversation.”
That means that micromanaging employees can directly impact their health. Researchers found that the stress caused by a micromanaging boss can also increase an employee’s mass index. People in high-demand jobs with low control were significantly heavier than those in jobs where the employee had a higher degree of control and latitude concerning how the work gets done.
“When you don’t have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you often engage in other unhealthy activities to cope with it,” Gonzalez-Mulé said. “You might eat more, or you might smoke, for instance.”
What’s Stressing Us Out At Work?
Another study from Deloitte found that screwing up at work is the number one major cause of stress. Making mistakes topped the list of workplace stressors, with 82% of respondents in Deloitte’s research saying that errors caused them significant stress. Other types of situations the study’s participants cited as stressful include:
- A challenging workload, with long hours or juggling of multiple responsibilities (52%)
- Moments of conflict, like getting reprimanded or delivering a difficult message (52%)
- Situations that create urgency, like critical projects or time pressure (46%)
- Face-to-face interactions, like delivering a presentation or meeting a new stakeholder (45%)
Respondents in the Deloitte study were also asked about their coping strategies for dealing with stress. The responses, from most popular to least, were:
- Action strategies, like diving right in and tackling the issue head on (83%)
- Cognitive coping strategies, like stepping back and thinking through possibilities (79%)
- Groundwork, like getting organized or seeking further information (78%)
- Interpersonal coping strategies including talking with someone and bouncing ideas (47%)
- Taking timeout to do something else, like socializing or exercising (46%)
What Are Financial Institutions Doing to Help Stressed Out Staff?
The MetLife survey suggested that financial institutions are interested in providing access to resources intended to help senior leaders manage their stress and maintain positive mental health. 67% of respondents said their financial institution provides some level of training to help them cope with the stress of work, and 88% admit they have access to an counseling programs. 44% of respondents have flexible working arrangements, and many enjoy other stress-reducing perks like subsidized gym memberships.
None of that mattered much to respondents in the MetLife study. Despite providing an array of resources and mental health benefits, only 18% of the survey’s participants said their organization has a positive attitude to mental health issues.
Gaynor with MetLife seems to suggest the banks’ efforts to manage stress aren’t necessarily sincere. “Banks are — on paper — making a significant commitment to tackling stress and mental health issues among their workforces,” Gaynor says.
But are these just cosmetic initiatives used to paint over the real issues? Are they offering such services simply because they are expected to? Or do financial institutions have a genuine level of concern for their top employees’ mental health and how they manage stress?