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Most financial planning practices will have staff with unidentified mental health issues, but two in five are not confident they could manage a mental health incident if it were to occur, Professional Planner and the Financial Planning Association’s Best Practice Forum heard.

At a session titled  Managing Mentally, practice owners and principals heard fatigue, a diminishing interest in work or attention span and absenteeism are among the signs a staff member could have a mental health issue, but some show few signs.

Businesses were encouraged to pay close attention to changes in work patterns or productivity, as well as creating a culture where staff feel comfortable to share. Encouraging healthy eating, movement – formal or incidental – and breathing exercises can also help, according to Vanessa Bennett, chief executive of Next Evolution Performance.

“I would suspect a lot of you have people suffering mental health issues in your business and you actually won’t even know,” she said. One of the reasons is high stress can lead to defensive behaviour.

Bennett said mental health issues can be costly in terms of productivity and turnover.

“If you look after your staff really well, you’ll have a much better client experience as well,” she said. “You need to make sure you’re leading by example as well.

“I see a lot of people in financial advice practices particularly where people are suffering the first signs of mental strain… so they end up putting on more staff.” She said this is a myopic solution.

She urged financial planning practices to provide a confidential channel for staff to talk about stress, which can also help both the planner and the business to distinguish between regular workplace stress and burnout, anxiety or depression.

If staff have no stress whatsoever, they may spend hours on a simple task. Optimal or peak performance lies between the no stress zone and a high level of stress, which curbs productivity.

The balancing act for managers is to find the sweet spot between the two. “A lot of your staff are spending a lot of their mental energy on things you don’t even realise that is taking them away from spending energy on servicing clients,” she said.

The Professional Planner/Financial Planning Association Best Practice Forum continues Thursday, August 10 in Melbourne. Professional Planner would like to thank its sponsors, Colonial First State, Commsec Adviser Services, Praemium, Super Concepts, Vanguard and BT Financial Group, as well as its CPD partner Portfolio Construction Forum. 

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