Jersey's chief financial services regulator has stepped down from his role, citing stress and the risk of "burnout" for his decision.
John Harris has been the Director General of the Jersey Financial Services Commission for the past 12 years, which have been described as "highly challenging" and "turbulent" for the island's critical industry.
However, in a surprise announcement, this morning the JFSC have published an unusually detailed statement on what is a personal issue, saying that Mr Harris had already had time off twice this year to manage "stress-related concerns" and so had decided to retire in order to prevent more serious health problems in the future.
It says that, "...John has led the organisation during a highly challenging and, in many ways, turbulent era for the Island’s financial services industry, embracing the global financial crisis of 2007/8 and its problematic aftermath, as well as overseeing a major internal programme of change and modernisation over the past four years."
Pictured: John Harris, who held the top regulation role for over a decade before stepping down.
Commenting on his departure, Mr Harris said: “It has been a huge privilege to serve for nearly 12 years as Director General and I am immensely proud of all that has been achieved during that time. For me the role has been uniquely rewarding but also immensely challenging, at times exacting a heavy toll. These past few months in particular have forced me to take stock and prioritise my welfare in order to return to professional life in due course. I pay tribute to the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Commissioners and all the staff at the JFSC for their support.”
JFSC Chairman, Lord Eatwell, added: “We thank John for his contribution to the JFSC and Jersey over his 12 years of service as Director General and understand the reasons for his retirement. He has played a valuable role in guiding the organisation in a positive direction. His expertise, financial acumen and dedication have benefitted our people, our stakeholders and the Island. My fellow Commissioners and I wish him all the best for the future.”
Express spoke to Lord Eatwell this morning about the shock announcement, which he said the JFSC were still “absorbing.”
He stated that there was no suggestion that Mr Harris had been suffering prior to this year, later adding that he did not believe “any external factors” to have played a part in the decision to retire. He confirmed that Mr Harris had been given six months’ notice pay.
Pictured: JFSC Chairman Lord Eatwell said that the main issue with Mr Harris' role was that it was "24/7". (UK Parliament)
According to Lord Eatwell, the decision to publish such a detailed statement on Mr Harris’ departure came as part of a wider drive to recognise stress within financial services.
“Businesses and organisations are recognising today stress issues to a degree that they haven’t in the past. You may have seen for example that Lloyds Bank are running a series of advertisements on television in which Lloyds state that one in four of their staff will suffer from stress-related issues at some point in their career.
“I think this is a very brave statement and I admire what John Harris had to say and I think it is something which everyone working in financial services which tends to be rather stressful, which even more widely we should read and think about.”
He said that the organisation already had “a whole suite of policies directed towards handling stress.” These include staff trained as “mental health first aiders”, sending line managers on training courses, and well as offering employees and their families a confidential counselling.
He added, however, that this policy would be reviewed in light of the departure of Mr Harris. “This particular instance has made us think more carefully and more deeply about how we manage stress in the workplace for our senior managers.”
The key problem, Lord Eatwell said, was the “24/7” nature of a financial services role. “In other words, you never know when problems are going to occur and issues are going to arise. That’s the nature of financial services. Things can be seen to be going very quietly and just have lots of business as usual and hard work and then suddenly you’ve got very substantial issues to deal with.”
Isolation and a “heavy load” was previously an issue with the Director General role, he elaborated, but attempts were made to rectify this some five years ago by introducing new four new staff to the senior team, who were recruited “at a higher level” than usual.
“I did feel when I arrived that the Director General was too isolated in a way, and not supported sufficiently. But I’m glad to say that we’ve managed to put in place a very strong and very competent executive team around the Director General and I’m pretty confident that is providing the sort of cooperative work framework, which is appropriate in these circumstances.”
That executive team will lead the way in Mr Harris’ absence, the Chairman confirmed. Advertising for someone to fill the role will commence at the end of the month, with the JFSC due to liaise with the Jersey Appointments Commission. They hope to be able to recruit a replacement by Christmas.
He said that changes to the Director General role were unlikely, but added: “Of course it’s a very ad hominem thing being a Director General in the sense that you get people with different personalities and so on and the sort of person that you get changes the way of working, but we’ll see when we get our new Director General in place.”
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