Over recent years, the banking sector and financial services more widely have shown an increased focus on the issue of wellbeing in the workplace, in particular with respect to mental health.
To explore the topic of wellbeing, we must first seek to define it. I use ‘wellbeing’ here as an umbrella term for physical and mental health as well as subjective wellbeing, which is often referred to simply as happiness.
Experts from a wide range of organisations, such as the What Works Centre for Wellbeing agree that almost nothing has as great an impact on our wellbeing as employment, and this impact can be both positive and negative. A healthy and supportive work environment can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of employees and, by extension, their families and wider society.1 The personal resilience and wellbeing of employees in the banking sector has, however, shown to be a key area of concern. In 2017 the Banking Standards Board’s (BSB) survey of over 36,000 employees working in 25 banks and building societies in the UK, showed that 26% of respondents agreed with the statement: ‘Working in my organisation has a negative impact on my health and wellbeing’2. As we better understand how work can impact individual wellbeing (both positively and negatively), the responsibility of organisations and their leaders to effect change grows.
Employee wellbeing is important to organisations, both because employee care is the right thing to do and because — as a growing body of evidence shows3— it is linked to better business outcomes, such as:
- improved customer service,
- lower employee turnover,
- reduced costs in terms of days lost to sick leave and long-term absence (but also in terms of presenteeism, where people go to work when they shouldn’t), and
- improvements in individual performance and wider productivity.
Research also suggests that happiness is correlated with being more likely to take care of oneself4, as higher levels of subjective wellbeing have been linked to positive behaviours such as wearing seatbelts and not smoking. Arguably, this link between positive wellbeing and positive behaviours can extend to the workplace, where healthier and happier employees may also be more likely to care for their customers and treat them fairly.
Many organisations have invested large amounts of money in corporate wellbeing programmes, for example by providing discounted gym memberships or through healthy eating initiatives. A more comprehensive approach will also consider underlying organisational and cultural factors that impact on employee wellbeing. The BSB’s research5 suggests that a key factor linked to higher levels of employee wellbeing is trust.
For example, the BSB’s 2017 Assessment findings indicated that employees who believe their work negatively impacts their wellbeing also felt that they could not trust the motives of their senior leaders. Our analysis of focus groups showed that employees in firms with higher levels of employee wellbeing highlighted the importance of flexible working arrangements, an observation that has been confirmed in numerous other studies. However, a number of employees working in business areas with lower level of employee wellbeing felt that their firms did not genuinely care about employee wellbeing but pursued flexible working policies solely for other business reasons, such as reducing the cost of office space. Unsurprisingly, the BSB’s survey also suggests that employee wellbeing is correlated with feeling respected at work.
Many firms have ambitious wellbeing agendas; however, it is vital that senior leaders understand the relationship between employee wellbeing and wider organisational culture. Building the trustworthiness of banks and building societies requires a genuine commitment to improving employee wellbeing, not simply to increase productivity and strengthen employee engagement, but for the purpose of higher wellbeing itself. Improved wellbeing is likely to be entwined with positive outcomes for the company, customer outcomes and wider society.
The UK’s financial services industry has made a commitment to address the issue of mental ill-health and combat the stigma that enshrouds it. Organisations like Mind and the City Mental Health Alliance are important leaders in this area as they bring together businesses to create a culture of openness. Pioneering initiatives include InsideOut, a forum where business leaders speak out about their own experiences, strengthening both speak-up culture on mental health and trust in their organisations’ support systems. The Lord Mayor’s ‘This is Me Campaign’6 brings the topic into the spot-light in order to reduce the stigma and raise awareness of wellbeing more widely.
Such initiatives, to name just a few, along with today’s World Mental Health Awareness Day, are good opportunities for leaders to demonstrate why their employees’ wellbeing matters.