Anxious and approaching 40: the high-flyers of the GFC left behind

Anxious and approaching 40: the high-flyers of the GFC left behind


Many middle-aged men feel their career is not moving and this depresses them. 


In the long, slow aftermath of the GFC, many careers have stalled. But it now appears that one group of bright young men have been hit particularly hard. These are the promising youngsters who were powering through the ranks of the financial services industry before the crisis hit. With the wind behind them and bonuses in front of them, their expectations were high. Now, they are still employed but almost five years have passed with hardly any upward movement.And there is little hope things will change soon as management layers are stripped away, organisations are restructured and it is predicted that long-term growth won’t be achieved again until 2017.

These men are stuck, anxious and approaching 40, the classic age for self-assessment.

Many are depressed. Last year, Sydney psychiatrist Tanveer Ahmed began hearing this scenario in his city practice. This year there have been more youngish men with the same story.

He says it is unusual for men of this age and in this socio-economic bracket to seek psychiatric help and when he raised the issue with colleagues, they said they have encountered the phenomenon too.

When a cluster of men seek psychiatric assistance over the same issue, it is indicative of more widespread concern.

“Previously, these young men only knew success and now they are suffering a sharp decline in status and trying to deal with the loss. They thought the crisis would be over in a couple of years and unlike their older colleagues, they hadn’t been through cycles before, “he says.

“They often present with depressive type symptoms but I think they are suffering a kind of GFC-induced grief,” says Ahmed.

“Before the GFC they experienced unprecedented mobility and riches. Suddenly this stopped and for many, it was one of the biggest blows in their private life because they had not yet reached the age when marriages break up, parents die and other losses occur.”


“Now they are in a holding pattern at work and some try to cope by doing things where they can chart their progress, like manic exercise. They push themselves to run 5, then 10, then 20 kilometres.”

There is no sympathy for their plight. Few care about otherwise healthy, employed youngish men with heightened status-anxiety who are no longer getting big bonuses and are mourning the loss of their upward momentum.

Ahmed says their peers, who lost their jobs as a result of the GFC, have now mostly dealt with their distress and moved on. Ironically, the stalled men now feel like they are the ones who have been left behind. Some, however, get themselves moving again.

Paul Rush, a partner at Robertson Executive Search, says he has seen this stalling phenomenon in straight line banking and particularly in investment banking.

Earning potential is now different, the annual six figure bonuses are not there anymore and there is a knock-on effect for these men and their families.

While it is too early to put numbers around this, his firm is seeing more and more mid-tier executives without a role or looking down the face of a restructure.

“It is a significant phenomenon and competition in this layer is increasing. A significant percentage could find themselves on the bench for more than 12 months which is unsustainable from an income and a mental perspective.”

Peter Wilson, chair of The Australian Human Resources Institute, is also familiar with this phenomenon but patches it against other factors too.

First there is fact that one in five adults of working age have mental issues, with anxiety or depression being top among them.


Another factor is gender equity. While he is an advocate of it, he says women are taking up more senior roles which are cutting supply lines for men. “Men are 50 per cent of the population but expect they would occupy 90 per cent of the top jobs.”

He says there is anecdotal evidence that number of executives in the fast-moving financial services industry work extraordinary hours with no real effective promotional or income satisfaction. They feel burnt out and this has shown up in anxiety and, some cases, depression.

Before the GFC, Wilson says many in this industry were targeting a salary of $400,000 by the age of 40. Now they are stuck at $180k – $200k, are heavily geared, have lots of demands and their after-tax pay is not clearing the deck.

“Many feel their careers are not moving where they want them to be and that depresses them.”

“There is something about turning 40. It’s a time of knowing who you are, where you are, and where you are going to get to. For many, this is a positive and they feel it is time to start giving back. But in that bracket at the moment, many are looking at themselves and don’t like where they are. They are not achieving their personal and profession objectives.”

So should they move? Is there anywhere to go? Will they be kept on?


Michele Grow, CEO of Davidson Trahaire Corpsych (DTC) says research has shown fear of unemployment rather than actual job loss, is often more damaging to employees’ health.

She says as financial organisations continue to downsize and restructure, employees who may need assistance, especially young males, are leaving issues far too long before seeking support.

Many also work increasing hours in their quest to demonstrate their value, which further impacts on their wellbeing.

DTC has seen “some alarming trends” in employees presenting to the employee assistance program over the past two years.

She says the two most significant issues are seeking support for depression/ anxiety (10,000 employees in the past two years) and stress (7900 employees in the past two years).

Over this period there has been a concerning 71 per cent increase in employees presenting with concerns about organisational change, 27 per cent increase in concerns relating to role changes and an 18 per cent increase in concerns relating to work satisfaction.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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