Markets fall. Heads roll, salaries and bonuses are slashed, businesses fold. Managers are under the spotlight more then ever, but there is a personal toll that is not often talked about. CATHERINE JAMES reports.

When David Bowie and Freddie Mercury sang a duet about stress, they said it splits families in two, and puts people on streets. If the current state of the market hasn’t got the people managing your funds stressed, you have to wonder what they are on. Yet managers asked to comment on how they’re coping with the stress, or what businesses are doing to alleviate the burden on their managers tend to reply with a variation of “we’re not affected”.

But stress happens. John Nolan remembers during a particularly bad period for markets during his asset consulting days, hearing about a particular manager being told by his boss to go and have a check-up. The doctor was concerned enough to order the manager to immediately have eight weeks off.

An organisational psychologist who has worked with clients in the finance industry says the lack of discussion about the impact of the state of the markets on the mental health of managers in this industry could be symptomatic of a systemic denial. Jim Bright of career management consultancy Bright & Associates, and author of nine books including Stress Smart, says in the current market there is a tendency to under-report, including perhaps on how a manager is coping. Funds management is an industry with unique pressures, he says. “It’s a confidence industry – you are judged a lot on your confidence. This can be very isolating when things turn bad.” “It’s an industry that is perhaps more dedicated to developing prestige networks – that support career advancement and the like – than to support networks.”

Judging how someone is coping boils down to three fundamental measures. First of all there is demand. If someone’s workload or environment has increased the demand on them, this can lead to increased stress if support is not at hand, Bright says. Second, increased demand leads to stress when there is a loss of control or at the extreme, a feeling of hopelessness. A sense of a loss of control is the biggest predictor of stress. “And in the financial markets they’re experiencing an acute loss of control,” he says. “Especially when things have been hunky-dory for so long, and then to have it unravelling at such an alarming rate, people would definitely be under more intense stress, particularly if they’re seeing their income in tatters.”

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