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Annual Review 2018/2019

WELLBEING

The personal resilience and wellbeing of employees in the banking sector has been a theme of the BSB’s work since we opened for membership in 2016. We explored this topic in some detail in our Annual Review 2017/2018. Employee wellbeing should matter first and foremost to firms in their capacity as good employers. It is also, however, an important factor in the firm’s ability to serve its customers, members and clients well. Personal resilience describes the ability of individuals to recover quickly from difficulties and shocks. A substantial body of medical, neurological and business research attests to the debilitating effect of stress, excessive pressure, exhaustion and poor wellbeing, on people’s ability to exercise judgement, gauge and manage risk and maintain high standards of behaviour and competence. As Dr Paul Litchfield, Chair of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing also noted at a BSB Member event designed to facilitate the sharing of experience and practical lessons on wellbeing, the benefits of improved wellbeing are often perceived primarily in terms of reducing the cost of illness-related absence. Far more important to the firm and the economy as a whole however, is the boast that good wellbeing and resilience gives to productivity. From whatever angle you approach, wellbeing matters; and the results of successive BSB Assessments are not, in this context, reassuring.

This is not to say that firms and others have not been investing considerable time and resource in this issue. Many have, and we have seen many good examples of work underway in Member firms (in particular with respect to mental health), and of firms working with other organisations and learning from good practice and initiatives outside the banking sector.

Given, however — as we shall see in this section — the entrenched nature of the challenge, more needs to be done to identify and address its underlying causes. We have recently published a visualisation of the factors that have been found to affect wellbeing. We have spoken, worked with and learned from a wide range of leading organisations and experts over the past year as we identify practical steps that firms can take and how their efforts can be most effectively channelled. We are particularly grateful in this context to, among others, the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, City Mental Health Alliance, the City of London Corporation, and Mind.

Turning to the results of our Survey, 44% of banking employees said in 2018 that they felt under excessive pressure to perform in their work (Q28); another 19% neither agreed nor disagreed. These proportions are identical to those of 2017. A 2016 comparison is not available for this question, as its wording was adjusted in 2017, having previously referred to feeling under ‘considerable’ pressure.

Fig 44. BSB Survey Q28 ‘I often feel under excessive pressure to perform in my work’, at firm level 2017 and 2018

Investment Banking, as figure 45 shows, was the business area with the smallest percentage of employees who said that they did not feel under excessive pressure in 2018. This was also, however, the business area with the highest proportion of neutral responses. The area with the largest percentage of employees saying explicitly that they were under excessive pressure was Commercial Banking, followed closely by Retail.

Fig 45. BSB Survey 2018 Q28 ‘I often feel under excessive pressure to perform in my work’, by business area

Q29 of the Survey asks whether working at their firm has a negative impact on the respondent’s health and wellbeing. Around a quarter of employees said in 2018 that it did (24% in 2018, from 26% in both 2017 and 2016). Fewer than three in five said that it did not (figure 46).

Fig 46. BSB Survey Q29 ‘Working in my organisation has a negative impact on my health and wellbeing’, at firm level 2017 and 2018

By business area, the highest proportion of people who said that working at their firm was bad for their health and wellbeing was found in Investment Banking (figure 47). This area also had the highest proportion of people who neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement in Q29. Within Investment Banking, the highest proportion of people who said that working in their organisation had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing was found in Global Banking (including Mergers & Acquisitions).

Fig 47. BSB Survey 2018 Q29 ‘Working in my organisation has a negative impact on my health and wellbeing’, by business area

In 2018 we asked an additional question of the 24% of Survey respondents who said that work was having a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, to help us understand what might be causing this.

This question was, ‘In an earlier question you said that working in your organisation was having a negative impact on your health and well-being. Could you tell us what it is about working in your organisation that causes this?’ We received more than 17,000 free-text responses, which we analysed and categorised.

As figure 48 shows, the most common contributory factors related to workload, pressure of expectations, and resources. Of the 24% who felt that working at their firm had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, over half cited workload as a problem. Also frequently mentioned were issues relating to management, working relationships, the physical environment and organisational change.

The categories of issue identified in figure 48 are clearly overlapping; a problem of workload, for example, may also be linked to issues of resources, management or systems. This is the first time, however, that we have been able to provide firms with direct feedback on what employees say is behind this important issue.

The 2018 results alone do not provide all the answers. They do, however, pose a clear challenge to firms. Issues around workload, expectations etc are primarily organisational factors; they are, by and large, in the control of the firm rather than the individual employee. Helping and encouraging employees to have a healthy lifestyle is valuable, and we have seen evidence of excellent initiatives in this space. What figure 48 shows, however, is that it is important in this not to overlook the organisational factors when supporting employee wellbeing in terms of personal lifestyle. Support and programmes offer to promote healthy eating or sleeping can of themselves do little to counteract the impact of long or unpredictable hours or an unmanageable workload.

Turning to some of the contributory factors identified in figure 48 in more detail, workload and/or long hours was the factor most commonly cited by employees as having a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. This was the case not only across all those who responded to this question, but within each business area. Its incidence was particularly marked in Investment Banking (figure 49).

Respondents from Commercial Banking and Functions were more likely than those in other business areas to mention the pressure of expectations, and Retail was a notable outlier on targets and goals (categorised separately here to the pressure of expectations, but perhaps related to it).

Figure 50 shows the words most commonly used in response to the free-text question related to workload, long hours, pressure of expectations or resources.

Fig 50. BSB Survey 2018 — words used by employees in response to Q29a, relating to workload, long hours, pressure of expectations and resources

When we applied our grounded theory approach (Box 1 in the Perceptions of Gender Equality section of this Annual Review) to the wellbeing theme in 2017, we observed that focus group participants both from business areas that scored well on wellbeing and from those that did not, talked about resource constraints and excessive workloads. It was, however, the way in which the higher-scoring firms helped employees deal with this, that made the difference. This included:

  • planning well and managing resources effectively;
  • ensuring that line managers were supportive;
  • effective implementation of flexible working policies (including, in particular, trusting employees who made use of them); and
  • treating different parts of their firms consistently.

16% of respondents to our additional question (i.e. 16% of 24% of all 72,000 Survey respondents) said that working relationships at their firm had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. They used words like ‘behaviour’, ‘fear’ ‘threat’, ‘consequence’, and ‘unfair’ to describe their experience (figure 51). Our work with firms over successive Assessment cycles has underlined the extent to which perceptions of fairness in the organisation (i.e. organisational justice) are important influences on wellbeing; a finding consistent with a wide range of research across sectors and countries.

Fig 51. BSB Survey 2018 — words used by employees in response to Q29a, relating to working relationships
50. BSB Survey 2018 words used by employees in response to Q29a, relating to workload, long hours, pressure of expectations and resources

Of those employees who said that working at their firm had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, 13% referred to their physical environment as a factor. As figure 49 showed, this was particularly the case in Investment Banking. The words most commonly used by employees that related to the physical working environment are shown in figure 52.

Fig 52. BSB Survey 2018 — words used by employees in response to Q29a, relating to physical environment
52. BSB Survey 2018 — words used by employees in response to Q29a, relating to physical environment

Many firms have told us about how they have moved away from sales targets and incentives; changes noted and generally welcomed also by employees when we have spoken with them in focus groups over the course of successive Assessments. As noted in our analysis of the issues raised by focus group participants in 2018 with respect to customer focus, however, some employees see such targets as still implicit in practice, and the responses to our additional wellbeing question are consistent with this perception.

Of the quarter of employees overall who said that working at their firm had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, 6% referenced targets and goals. We do not know the nature of the targets or goals referred to, and they may bear no relation to sales volumes or financial metrics. There are also marked differences by business area. The 6% who referenced targets and goals rose to 9% in Retail and, within Retail, to 15% in Retail Branch. Differences were also evident between firms. As noted, 15% of Retail Branch employees who said that working at their firm had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, referred to targets and goals as a factor. By individual firm, however, this proportion ranged from 6% in the firm at the low end of the spectrum, to 22% in the firm at the other. The issue of targets and goals may be one of perception or of substance. Either way, it is one that firms will wish to address.

We are continuing to analyse the data available from the Survey in order to gain as much insight from it as possible on issues relating to wellbeing, and look forward to working with firms and partner organisations on practical steps arising from this work as the year progresses.

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Fig 48. BSB Survey 2018 additional question — Q29a ‘Could you tell us what it is about working in your organisation that causes this?’, by factor

  • Fig 49. BSB Survey 2018 additional question — Q29a ‘Could you tell us what it is about working in your organisation that causes this?’, by factor and business area