Brokers still stressed despite positive progress

10 October 2022

Attitudes towards mental health are improving, but stress continues to be a major issue for brokers, according to Ecclesiastical’s latest Broker Wellbeing Survey.*

The annual survey, published to coincide with World Mental Health Day on 10 October, found that stress and anxiety levels have risen for the fourth year running, with a record number of brokers reporting that they feel overwhelmed.

Yet firms are doing more than ever to improve mental wellbeing, with three-quarters of brokers saying their firm is committed to improving wellbeing, and a record number of brokerages introducing wellbeing measures in the workplace.

Causes of stress

The survey found 70% of brokers have experienced stress at work over the past 12 months, compared to 61% last year, while those experiencing anxiety increased to 44% (up from 41% in 2021). The proportion of brokers feeling overwhelmed in the last 12 months rose to a record 41% (up from 36% in 2021).

Heavy workloads (72%), dealing with regulation (58%), and customer demands (54%) continue to be the top three causes of stress in the workplace.

Regulation has risen 13% since last year, with many brokers using the survey to voice their concerns about the amount of regulatory change currently impacting them. One broker said: “I love my job and would have liked to continue but I’m selling the business and retiring because of the level of regulation and compliance.”

With insurer service levels also an issue for many brokers, this year’s survey saw a big increase in the percentage of brokers reporting dealing with insurers as a major cause of stress, rising from 39% to 52%.

Staff shortages (42%) also appeared in the top five concerns for the first time, as broker businesses struggle to recruit and retain staff following the great resignation triggered by the pandemic.

Concerns about Covid-19 fell year-on-year from 29% in 2021 to just 14% this year.

Managing stress

Brokers continue to feel confident at recognising the signs of poor mental health in themselves (90%) with a record number (96%) feeling they have the tools to deal with stress.

However, in a worrying trend the proportion of brokers who feel able to report their mental health issues has fallen for a fourth successive year. This figure has declined steeply from 74% in 2019 and 60% in 2022.

When asked the reasons for not feeling able to report an issue, half of respondents (49%) said they didn’t feel it was serious enough, while one in six (17%) said they preferred to manage it themselves. One in 10 said they didn’t feel comfortable discussing their issues.

Positive action

This year’s survey saw year-on-year increases across a number of indicators, continuing the positive trend over the past four years.

Nearly two-thirds of brokers (61%) reported an improvement in attitudes at their brokerage towards mental health, which has risen for the fourth year running.

The percentage of brokers who believe their firm is committed to reducing the stigma of mental health also rose to 69% (64% in 2021) and 75% of brokers believe their firm is committed to improving wellbeing, rising for the third year.

This is evidenced by the growing number of wellbeing measures being introduced by firms. Flexible working is the most popular wellbeing initiative, with 61% of firms now offering it compared to 45% a year ago. This is followed by advice and guidance on how to deal with stress (35%), confidential helplines (34%), counselling support (31%) and mental health awareness training for staff (31%) and managers (30%). One in five broker firms has introduced healthy activities such as yoga to support colleagues with mental health.

In a positive sign for the industry, awareness of mental health issues is at its highest level, with an average score of 6.4 out of 10, up from 5.8 last year and 5.7 in 2019. Understanding of mental health still lags but rose 0.5 (5.6 this year from 5.1 in 2021).

Supporting brokers

Ecclesiastical is working with specialist consultancy Mental Health in Business (MHIB) to support brokers with managing stress and building resilience.  Together they have provided mental health first aid training to 32 broker firms this year. The Ecclesiastical Insurance management team have also taken part in the training to be able to better support their teams.

Adrian Saunders, Commercial Director at Ecclesiastical, said: “Heavy workloads, regulation and insurer service levels are really piling the pressure on brokers, who are increasingly stretched due to staffing issues, and that’s borne out in the results of our fourth annual broker wellbeing survey, which shows stress and anxiety are at record levels. Regulation is a significant challenge, driven by the current amount of regulatory change creating additional work, particularly for smaller firms that often don’t have the access to resources.

“There are a lot of positives to take from these results though – brokerages are continuing to prioritise the mental wellbeing of their staff, which has been on an upward trend for the past four years, and brokers feel better supported than ever before. It’s also encouraging to see that awareness and understanding of mental wellbeing has risen across the industry.

“There is one note of caution for firms. Some brokers told us they were frustrated at the volume of generic guidance being issued. Firms need to be mindful of offering more personalised support, so it’s not seen as just a tick-box exercise.”

* FWD carried out research among 250 brokers Aug – Sep 2022