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Advice must change to tackle ‘the last great taboo’

Panellists at our recent Retreat events shared their mental health experiences, and discussed the importance of fighting the taboo by setting up the right support framework

Advice must change to tackle ‘the last great taboo’

Businesses fail to tackle mental health because it remains one of the last great taboos. But breaking through the culture of silence could be the greatest thing your firm ever does for its staff, and for itself. That was the message panellists at our South West and South East retreats gave to advisers and wealth managers.

At South East, Quilter chief executive Paul Feeney (pictured), spoke of his past battles with mental health. He explained the initiatives Quilter has put in place, and discussed why the subject was still a ‘taboo’ within the financial services industry.

‘I knew there were people in my firm that weren’t OK. I still believe mental health is the last great taboo in the City,’ he said. ‘It’s something my family and I have lived with. My family has been ravaged down the years by severe mental health issues.’

Quilter has signed the Time to Change employer pledge, through which organisations commit to changing how mental health in the workplace is viewed. It has also set up an internal initiative, Thrive, which encourages transparency about wellbeing.

‘We have had more incredible feedback across our company on this than anything we’ve ever done. It starts with making a connection, and that’s always personal. So unless you can make it personal, you won’t get it right. You have to be prepared to do that,’ said Feeney.

The panel discussed company culture and the state of mental health across the sector. It also addressed how financial services businesses, and the people working in them, can come together to improve the situation.

Panellist Steve Nelson (pictured below), consulting director at The Lang Cat, has previously spoken about mental health on the New Model Adviser® podcast. He discussed how the absence of a dedicated company framework can often make a bad situation worse.

‘I wasn’t talking about my mental health issues,’ he said. ‘I took a very male approach, frankly, and one day things weren’t pretty and I couldn’t perform. I couldn’t get out of bed, and certainly had no chance of going to work and being productive. 

‘I reached out to my two immediate bosses and they were both very supportive. However, there was no essential framework to deal with these issues. I was immediately handed off to occupational health. It was decentralised somewhere else, so I was speaking over the phone. It was so difficult to not look someone in the eye and tell them the details of how I was feeling.’

Always another email

Rosanna Williams-Wood (pictured below), director of coaching firm The Secret Coach, said more needs to be done by individuals to understand the importance of their wellbeing. She said people who work in the profession needed to ‘put themselves first’ before they realise something isn’t quite right with their health.

‘There is always work isn’t there? There is always another email. It’s about the culture that allows you to do that. How do I give myself permission to put myself first?’ she said.

Mental health expert Amy McKeown discussed her experiences and struggles on implementing a mental health programme for multinational professional services firm Ernst & Young.

‘I spent a decade running my own mental health tech consultancy. So by the time I joined Ernst & Young, I had a lot of experience in implementing mental health programmes.

McKeown said that, while there was some ‘resistance’ from the company initially, her nuanced approach finally got noticed.

‘I wrote a mental health programme for Ernst & Young and took it to the head of consulting, who took it to the head of HR, who then took it to the UK chairman. Before I knew it I was seconded down to employee relations for two years to implement the program. So I came through that way, instead of just trying to push it through.’

Panel chair, New Model Adviser® online producer Ollie Smith, asked the audience to rate their own employer’s efforts on mental health within their respective firms.  Unsurprisingly, the results revealed a majority of attendees felt not enough was being done to address mental health in the workplace.

Watch our interview with Paul Feeney about mental health in the City below. 

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