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Economic crisis takes toll on UK bankers

Nov 20 2011 15:06 Sapa-AFP

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London - The pressure on London bankers to get to grips with the global financial crisis has led to stress, depression and insomnia among City workers, affecting even the most experienced bosses.

The phenomenon was brought to light when the chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta-Osario, announced that he was stepping down from his post until the end of the year for "medical reasons."

Reports claimed the Portuguese-born director, who earns a basic annual salary of more than £1 million ($1.6 million, 1.2 million euros), was suffering from fatigue after just six months at the helm of the bailed-out bank.

The shock announcement came as the financial sector grappled with the latest developments in the eurozone debt crisis, stirring anxiety among investors and sending shares in the banking giant plummeting.

Horta-Osario highlighted a worrying trend among bankers, said Dr Michael Sinclair, clinical director of City Psychology Group, which treats patients from offices in the City and Canary Wharf, London's second business centre.

"There's definitely an increase in (patients) presenting to us with stress-related conditions, a whole host of anxiety disorder and depression," Sinclair told AFP.

Sinclair blames the current economic turmoil for the growth in cases of stress-related illness, which can cause a range of physical symptoms including headaches, back pain, heart conditions and insomnia.

"Since the recession, things have changed," said Cary Cooper, a professor of psychology and health at Lancaster University in northwest England.

In the wake of the global economic crisis, many companies were forced to shed employees and increase workloads for their current workers, which has driven up stress levels, Cooper said.

As the eurozone crisis deepens, Cooper said job insecurity is a further source of worry for workers, many of whom remember the traumatic scenes of September 2008 when London employees at failed US bank Lehman Brothers lost their jobs overnight.

A recent study by research institute the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has added to financial workers' job fears.

CEBR estimates that more jobs in the financial sector will be slashed this year, bringing the number of employees in the industry back down to 1998 levels.

In this high-pressure environment, Cooper suggests there is a 'survival of the fittest' mentality, with bankers, brokers and other management staff likely to try desperately to hide any stress symptoms from their employers.

"The majority of people working the financial sector would not admit to not coping because it could mean they are highly vulnerable to job loss," Cooper said.

Bankers are unlikely to turn to outsiders for help for their "businessman blues" because of public animosity towards their profession, Cooper added.

Recent reports of hefty bonus payments for staff at banks that were rescued from collapse by state bailouts has done little to improve their reputation in the eyes of the general public.

"The public perception of them and the media's attack on them has made their job more stressful," Cooper said, adding that many even lie about their job when asked.

According to Sinclair, the British public's lack of compassion for bankers has forced many to turn to drugs and alcohol in a bid to relieve the stress.

"It's a vicious circle that makes the problems worse in the end," he said.

stress  |  economic crisis  |  uk  |  bankers
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