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Working smarter, counselling sessions and ‘therapy’ dogs: how brokers are battling mental health worries

  • 08/02/2022
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Working smarter, counselling sessions and ‘therapy’ dogs: how brokers are battling mental health worries
Brokers are adopting a wide range of tactics to improve the mental health of themselves and their staff, ranging from getting some fresh air to making use of office pets.

Last week the Mortgage Industry Mental Health Charter (MIMHC) urged the industry to raise its game in talking more openly about mental health worries, having put together a range of resources for member firms to support their efforts.

Now brokers have shared with Mortgage Solutions the varied approaches they have introduced in order to boost the mental health of their teams.


Tapping into expertise

Pete Mugleston, managing director of OnlineMortgageAdvisor, said that his own experiences with anxiety at university had led him to the book Clarity by Jamie Smart. Not only did the book help him, but it led to Mugleston holding a conference with Smart for his staff, as well as developing a mental wellbeing portal on the broker’s website for staff and customers alike to use.

The portal includes a host of videos from Smart on how to cope with various pressure points during a house move, as well as broader issues like coping with not being in control and dealing with things going wrong.

Mugleston explained: “We noticed a lot of brokers and staff members were opening up and reporting having had similar issues with mental health, so at first we wanted to do something for them, hence the conference. Then we had the idea that, whilst lots of investment goes into helping customers have a smooth ride when buying a house, no one was promoting or doing anything about handling the stress of it all. Strange in a way, given it’s reported as one of the most stressful events in life. 

“So we started the portal, and a campaign to help our clients too – the video series was about dealing with house moves specifically, but the message is the same whatever the stressor is, and improving our understanding is the route to freedom from it.”


Work smarter, not longer

Stuart Powell, managing director at Ocean Mortgages, said his firm encourages shorter working hours so that staff enjoy a better work/life balance, while the office has two “therapy daschunds” who are available for staff to cuddle when they need a break.

He added: “We also employed a dual qualified adviser who is a fully qualified counsellor and specialist mental health mentor. She is on hand to support staff with achievable goal setting, time management, organisational support and provides mental health support such as depression management and anxiety reduction strategies.”


Stress and drinking add to brokers’ troubles

Lewis Shaw, founder of Shaw Financial Services, said there were three factors which meant mental health issues were rife across the mortgage industry: the levels of stress, the fact that it’s an insular job, and the “macho drinking culture”.

All three combined make for serious issues from anxiety to depression and stress to addiction,” he suggested.

Shaw argued the best way for brokers to support their own mental health, as well as their colleagues, is to set boundaries. That means putting realistic timeframes on work, and having a set daily finishing time after which brokers stop checking their phone and email, though he acknowledged that this can be easier said than done.


Combatting loneliness

Graham Cox, founder and director of Self Employed Mortgage Hub, noted that it’s all too easy for brokers to feel isolated and lonely, with so many working from home due to going self-employed or simply because of the pandemic.

He continued: “Anything that encourages human interaction and the building of new relationships can only be a good thing. After all, we’re all social beings, and it would be a sad world where we were all cut off from one another during our working lives.”

Samantha Bickford, managing director of The Mortgage Girl, agreed that the world of the broker can be a lonely place if you are self-employed.

She added: “As a director of a small team, we are lucky to benefit from like-minded people around us and we often take time out to go for a coffee, or have a team breakfast before a busy day simply to talk about how we are feeling and what support we need.”

Bickford argued this sort of support was vital, particularly in the current climate when finding the right work/life balance can be a challenge.

Dominik Lipnicki, director at Your Mortgage Decisions, echoed concerns around remote working leading to loneliness, which he said makes it important to have contact with colleagues over video calls. This is particularly true for new starters, and those new to the industry, he added.

Lipnicki continued: “Video calls can’t replace face to face contact so we have to ensure that new starters feel welcome and supported. Good communication, building trusted relationships and supporting each other means that staff are more likely to be open if they are suffering and we can find the right support to improve their mental wellbeing. It is great to see the industry engaging with this issue.”


Taking time for yourself

Paul Neal, mortgage and equity release specialist at Missing Element Mortgage Services, said he sees his own mental health as a priority, and takes advantage of being self employed by taking “mental health breaks”.

These can be “walking the hounds or taking a few moments to myself for a run or just listening to music. We all need to take time for ourselves.”

This sentiment was echoed by Rob Peters, principal at Simple Fast Mortgage, who emphasised the importance of simply going outside.

He explained: “Going for a walk in the woods or park, with no phone, ideally for an hour per day, gives my mind a rest and offsets the fast paced multi-demands of the job.”

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