By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - Fears of job cuts and "banker bashing" are taking a toll on the health of bank workers of all levels, according to an international study published on Wednesday that follows a trail of burnouts and tragedies in the world of finance.
The study by Swiss-based UNI Global Union found more than 80 percent of banking and insurance unions in 26 countries cited deteriorating health as a major problem for their members in the past two years, with many now working in a "climate of fear".
More than half of the unions in 16 countries from Europe, four from Asia and three each from Africa and Latin America said members complained their personal lives were also under considerable strain as they battled the financial crisis.
Lynn Mackenzie, author of the report "Banking: The Human Crisis", said bankers in the glass towers of finance were often blamed for the global financial crisis, but this finger pointing also impacted bank workers lower down the pay chain.
"Bank employees are having to face angry customers, sometimes on a daily basis, whose lives are falling apart and they blame the banks," said Mackenzie, adding the survey was one of the widest pieces of research looking at bankers' health.
"But on top of this, managers at banks are putting pressure on staff to meet often unrealistic sales and performance targets. This can be the tipping point into health problems."
The report comes a day after senior British banker Hector Sants, head of compliance at Barclays, was signed off on medical leave until the end of the year suffering stress.
His leave echoed that of Lloyds Chief Executive Antonio Horta-Osorio who took two months off in late 2011 after suffering sleep deprivation and exhaustion.
Two highly publicised deaths this summer also highlighted the pressure facing workers in the finance sector.
Zurich Insurance is looking into the suicide of its chief financial officer Pierre Wauthier and investigations are ongoing into the death of Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt who was found dead in his London lodgings having worked through the night several days running.
Mackenzie said the public had little sympathy for bankers but needed to realise it was not just highly paid executives feeling the strain, but workers at all levels and pay grades.
Unions cited stress as a key health issue, with workers concerned about losing their jobs, being replaced by younger, cheaper or offshore staff, unfeasible sales targets, lower salaries, and having to complete the same work with less staff.
The report found about 193,000 jobs have been slashed in the finance sector in the 26 countries surveyed since mid-2011, and the cuts were not over with restructuring ongoing.
"Pressure to cut costs and sell products has created a climate of fear at many banks and workers are too worried about their jobs to speak out or admit they are suffering mentally, fearing it will jeopardise their job," Mackenzie told Reuters.
UNI Global Union, which represents 900 service sector unions internationally, said it wanted a fairer approach to restructuring, limiting payments to shareholders and more done by management to preserve jobs.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)