‘Power games’ have plunged European Central Bank staff into mental health crisis

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Staff at the Eurozone’s central bank are battling a mental health crisis that has accelerated since they were forced to tackle historical inflation levels. 

The European Central Bank (ECB) has seen a sharp uptick in the number of workers at risk of burnout and an increase in those reporting suicidal thoughts, reportedly revealed in an internal survey.

The report of 1,602 ECB staffers found that the share facing burnout had jumped from 33.2% in 2021, the last time the survey was carried out, to 38.9% now. The number of people experiencing suicidal thoughts has risen from 6% to 9.1%, the study found, equivalent to 146 employees.

The share of employees reporting at least one psychosomatic symptom, including burnout, exhaustion, mood disorders, and disengagement, now reportedly stands at 72%.

Why are workers at the ECB so stressed?

The bank’s staff workload has also been increasing as it fought the highest inflation it had faced in its short, 25-year history.

A perfect storm of supply chain logjams, increased consumer spending, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine helped push inflation to a peak of 10.6% in October 2022. 

The ECB began hiking interest rates a few months prior in a bid to slow demand. The base rate was raised to a near-record of 4.5% by summer 2023, with the first-rate cut only implemented in June.

Since its formation in 1999, the ECB has rarely known peace. Before dealing with the fallout from COVID, workers at the central bank had to deal with the weight of the global financial crash and the ensuing debt crisis that unfolded across Europe’s poorer nations.

In the latest survey, seven out of 10 employees reporting burnout said they regularly worked late, while six out of 10 not experiencing burnout also reported working late.

The ECB’s staff committee chair Carlos Bowles said a “significant surge in suicidality” couldn’t be examined without questioning the bank’s leadership.

“Burnout is known to induce poor decision-making and this is not what we want for the ECB where millions of European citizens could be negatively impacted by an error in data analysis, macroeconomics forecasting or simply poor judgment as regards the reality of the economic situation,” Bowles told Politico.

While there are surely parallels between the period of the reports and the ECB’s historic battle with inflation, a more Machiavellian source could be to blame for spiraling mental illness.

Politico reported that nearly every respondent complained about “power games” at the bank, while around nine in 10 complained about favoritism as others said progression opportunities weren’t handed out on merit.

A representative for the ECB didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The survey also paints a picture of threats of physical and verbal violence, and allegations of sexual harassment. 

The ECB has waded into a few public battles with its staff members, the most recent over a pay dispute last year. ECB employees’ union reps filed an official complaint in 2023 after the bank passed a 4% pay rise, less than half the inflation rate of 8.3% at the time. 

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