The broker industry is making positive progress in tackling the stigma of mental health but there is still a way to go, according to Ecclesiastical’s latest Broker Wellbeing Survey.
The annual survey, now in its third year, found that awareness and understanding of mental health issues among brokers has risen since last year’s report.
The research also found that brokers have remained resilient in the face of COVID-19, with many firms adapting their working practices and introducing support systems to help colleagues cope during lockdown.
Rising awareness and understanding among brokers
The survey of 250 brokers tracks progress on mental health issues by asking them to rate awareness and understanding in the industry on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high).
Awareness of mental health issues rose from 5.7 in 2019 to 5.81 in 2020, while understanding of mental health issues rose from 4.9 to 5.36.
While this signals a positive shift for the sector, the research uncovered a diverse range of attitudes and approaches among broker firms. Brokers who gave high awareness scores said they received positive support and communications from their companies, while they also cited more awareness in the broker press. Those who gave low scores cited lack of appetite and resources to deal with the issue, and continued stigma around mental health issues.
As one broker put it: “There are certain brokers, my company included, who put a lot of resources into raising awareness of the issue and training staff. Yet there are other brokers where it’s looked upon as a weakness or that the person suffering is workshy. Overall, it’s getting better but there is still a long way to go before it is understood across the entire industry.”
Dealing with mental health
Over half of brokers experienced a mental health issue in the past 12 months. Stress and anxiety are still the biggest issues facing brokers, with heavy workloads (76%), dealing with regulation (59%), customer demands (54%) and pressure to hit targets (47%) being the biggest contributors.
However, the figures have fallen sharply since last year, with the number of brokers reporting stress down from 61% to 46% and anxiety from 37% to 32%.
This improvement in mental health is borne out by the rest of the research, which found that brokers feel more confident spotting the signs of poor mental health (91% up from 88% in 2019) and the majority feel they have the right tools to deal with stress (91%). This could in part be down to an increase in the number of firms offering mental health training to staff and managers.
More brokers agree their organisation is committed to reducing the stigma of mental health compared to last year, while the number of brokers who feel comfortable talking to their manager and colleagues about their mental health has also risen.
The gender gap
The research found differences in attitude to mental health among male and female respondents. Women are more likely to admit they feel overwhelmed at times (36%) than men (22%), and women are significantly more likely to report a mental health problem (72%) to their manager than men (47%). Female brokers are also more likely to agree that attitudes towards mental health have improved in their organisation over the past 12 months.
The COVID effect2
While a fifth of brokers said that lockdown had negatively affected staff wellbeing, almost as many (17%) felt that it had a positive effect, with 63% saying there was no change.
The biggest wellbeing concern, the research found, was isolation (58%), followed by the stress of managing work and home life (33%) and reduced social contact with colleagues (20%).
Brokers have responded by introducing flexible working hours (60%), increasing the frequency of team meetings (32%) and hosting virtual socials (27%). The research also found that more than a quarter had introduced dedicated mental health support for colleagues while a fifth had provided resources for parents and carers.
To further support brokers, Ecclesiastical has released the latest in its series of videos with motivational speaker Chris Moon. The video focuses on the growing issue of work fatigue, which emerged as a key theme from a series of virtual broker roundtables held in the autumn.
Adrian Saunders, commercial director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “I’m delighted that our latest research finds positive progress is being made in reducing the stigma of mental health among brokers. It’s encouraging to see that many firms are now taking this issue seriously and creating environments where people feel able to open up and discuss their issues. However there is a still a way to go with many firms not prioritising mental wellbeing.
“Our broker roundtables found that broker firms have responded well to the COVID-19 crisis, offering extra support and help for colleagues. This is reflected in our research, which found that stress and anxiety levels have fallen since last year, most likely as a result of brokers embracing a more flexible lifestyle. However the flipside of this is that many workers are struggling to disconnect from work and are generally feeling fatigued. Our new video provides tips and guidance on how to avoid fatigue and stay positive during this uncertain time.”