As we recover from the extraordinary events of the last few years, it’s never been more vital to talk openly about mental health. The insurance industry hasn’t quite shrugged off its old-fashioned sensibilities just yet, and mental health is still a difficult area to navigate, especially at a senior level. Add to this the pressures of building a business, combined with the cultural expectations of working in ‘The City’, and you’ll appreciate why this subject is so important to me.
My own experience of workplace mental health has been varied, and the observations I’m sharing here are based on the encounters I’ve had, as well as the strategies that have worked for me.
Like other financial sectors, the insurance world also encourages a specific culture of client entertainment, and alcohol is often central to this. There can be an implied pressure to partake in these activities, which result in cycles of late nights and foggy days. For the most part, this is normalised. But what goes unsaid is the impact these habits can have on your health – both physical and mental – over a prolonged period.
I’ve heard many people say, “my thirties were the toughest years of my life”, and I’ve certainly found that to be true. I tried to occupy several roles at once – being a present husband, a hands-on father to young children, and tackling the most challenging part of my career so far. It’s only in retrospect that I’m able to see just how thinly I was stretched.
When I eventually moved away from this traditional culture and founded a start-up, the first 18 months went relatively smoothly. Then came the pandemic.
The global economy shrank by over 5%, but thanks to the hard work of our team, Loadsure has prospered in the years of economic uncertainty that followed. Yet the pressures of fundraising and the heavy responsibility of maintaining a new business were very challenging. While running a start-up gives you more freedom, it also means you don’t yet have an infrastructure of tried and tested processes in place. Every day demands a thousand decisions, big and small. It feels like you’re never off the clock.
With the advantage of hindsight, I can see how much easier those years would have been if I’d had a few of the strategies that help me find a balance now. Taking time to maintain your mental health, just as you would your physical, is transformative. Mindfulness looks different to everyone, but for me, it meant becoming an early morning person. The first two hours of each day are earmarked as mine, and this window gives me the breathing space to check in before logging on. By carving out time to know yourself, you can more easily and rationally identify your needs, and that’s an empowering thing.
The events in 2020 rightly put mental health at the centre of the conversation. Clearly pandemics, climate change events and global conflicts don’t help, but I often hear technology – for all its miraculous capabilities – held up as a key culprit of disorders like anxiety. With more ways to connect than ever before, workers are intensely available to both clients and colleagues, and this unfettered access can blur the boundaries between work and home life.
But I think the same technology we use for briefings and conference calls can be integral to a working model that prioritises the wellbeing of our team. Loadsure was conceived as a remote-first business long before working from home became a necessity. As a result, we were well equipped to weather the storm of lockdown restrictions.
Is it culture then, not technology itself, at the heart of the problem?
When I built Loadsure, I wanted support for mental health to go further than the handful of token tick-box gestures you so often see companies rolling out. To create a working environment that’s truly accepting and non-judgmental, we need to implement systemic change in the discussion around mental health. That means fostering a genuine sense of accountability for our community, and providing supportive measures which actually give employees the space and flexibility to get better.
In the US, a staggering 68% of millennials and 81% of gen Zs have left jobs for mental health reasons, where previous generations might have struggled on. And at what cost? Perhaps we can learn from this younger generation – their tolerance for toxic workplaces is lower, and rightly so. Either way, it’s clear to see that company attitudes towards mental health are not only crucial to the happiness of your employees, but also good for business.
So how does Loadsure approach mental health?
Firstly, flexible working is available to everyone, which is particularly helpful to those of us juggling work and parenthood. The whole business is remote, and each employee has the option to use an office space if they’d prefer company to home comforts. But our definition of flexibility goes beyond policy – it speaks to the compassionate, respectful way we aim to work together.
In a start-up, you might spend more time with your colleagues in a single week than your family, so you can’t underestimate the value of good communication. Managers schedule regular 1-2-1s with team members, and while these open conversations serve a professional purpose, they’re also a safe space where employees can share vulnerabilities, or ask for support. If someone is struggling and the demands of the job are overwhelming them, we actively encourage no-judgement mental health days.
On a lighter note, we organise a variety of different social events that take place both in person and online, including everything from virtual cocktails and games to hiking trips. These gatherings help to break down the barriers that hierarchy can construct, and their popularity is a testament to the ecosystem we’ve nurtured.
All this to say, my first-hand experience of the industry is just one of the things that drives me to make Loadsure a supportive, respectful place to work. Above all, I don’t believe anyone – in any role – should have to sacrifice their mental wellbeing to the demands of their professional lives.