By Dr. Stephen Pereira, Founder & CEO, Happence
Employee wellbeing has been rising up the HR agenda in recent years, with employers increasingly recognising the benefits of happier, healthier workforces. Mental health problems can affect anyone regardless of the industry they work in, but some sectors see a higher prevalence of wellbeing issues than others. Banking is one of these sectors, but this isn’t because banks have neglected the wellbeing of their workers. In fact, some organisations, such as Lloyds Banking Group, have done quite the opposite – going to great lengths to support the wellbeing not only of its employees but of its customers as well.
Mental health difficulties in the banking sector can be attributed in part to specific personality traits that people who pursue a career in this industry tend to possess: employees are typically highly functioning, exceptionally motivated individuals who hold themselves to high standards and aren’t afraid of taking on a lot of responsibility.
The unfortunate downside to having these personality traits is a common fear of failure and a need for validation of achievements. These feelings can be exacerbated by everyday pressures, leading to difficulties with sleep as well as stress and anxiety – all contributing to a general state of unwellness. Research shows that these difficulties have been heightened by the pandemic and cases of burnout among financial services professionals have also increased.
How poor wellbeing and burnout impact banking businesses
When employees are struggling with their mental health, their work can suffer too. The biggest impacts banking organisations can experience as a result of poor wellbeing and burnout are absenteeism, presenteeism and high turnover.
Higher rates of absenteeism can stem from the increased stress, anxiety and general unwellness that high-functioning employees can experience. Time out from the business is often just a short-term fix, and can actually increase wellbeing issues if the individual has to catch up on work when they return, or they return to find they have missed out on important opportunities in their absence.
Presenteeism is the act of showing up for work when not fully functioning because of illness or other medical conditions. Workers in the banking sector may feel pressured to work when sick or burnt out because of an eagerness to perform well and impress, but working while unwell can cut productivity by a third.
It’s common for skilled banking professionals to leave the sector in their mid-40s as a result of the issues they experience. This trend of short-termism is less than ideal for employers given the time, effort and energy required for recruiting employees who are right for the role.
Addressing burnout and nurturing wellbeing in banking organisations
It’s common for banking organisations to offer a range of incentives which aim to look after the wellbeing of their employees including healthy meals, workplace yoga sessions and gym memberships. While these benefits can have a positive impact on their physical and mental health, further steps can be taken to proactively address issues like burnout, and to nurture the behaviours employees need to flourish in their roles.
Those experiencing burnout won’t generally feel open to admitting it, so being able to identify the issue will prevent it from going unaddressed. It will also provide an opportunity to treat the problem before it spirals out of control. Common signs include disengagement, lack of productivity, fatigue, negativity, irritability and absenteeism.
Once identified, burnout needs to be treated delicately. Approaching an employee at a quiet moment will allow them to open up about what they are experiencing without contributing to any stress they might be feeling. Asking how the business can best support them and taking note of these points will help the individual feel respected and supported. Providing access to the necessary experts who can recommend changes to diet, exercise and sleeping habits can also help them to address the various factors that will impact their wellbeing.
Employers should also consider opening up discrete channels for employees to seek support. Encouraging others in the organisation to train and volunteer as mental health officers can equip the business with the skills required to provide support whenever necessary.
Why a proactive approach matters
While many banks will have some form of wellbeing programme in place, these initiatives are often reactive in nature – available to employees only when they experience problems. Shifting the focus towards risk prevention will improve outcomes for individuals whilst resulting in cost savings for the organisation via improved productivity and reductions in presenteeism and absenteeism.
Taking a more proactive approach to mental wellbeing can be as simple as having managers ask employees how they are doing at the beginning of appraisals, reviews or ad-hoc one-to-one meetings. But there is plenty more that can be done to proactively encourage better wellbeing, such as empowering people to be resilient in the face of adversity through behavioural skills training.
Learning how to adopt perspective and manage stress without becoming distressed is important because our thoughts affect the way we feel and the way we behave, not only towards ourselves but also towards others. To achieve this, employees should be taught cognitive behavioural skills, tools and techniques that are tailored to the individual and their specific needs to build up their own resilience. Tailoring this around factors such as the individual’s age, position and background will be far more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Education around mental wellbeing should be shared with every individual within the organisation. When such education takes place within a community – no matter which department, region, or country each individual works in – the results can be even more favourable.
Any wellbeing programme should be delivered from the top of the organisation down. This ensures senior management who set examples for the rest of the business can demonstrate the impact the programme is having on their wellbeing. By equipping leaders with these skills and behaviours first, they will be better placed to proactively mitigate any wellbeing issues that arise within the organisation before every individual has completed the programme.
Creating an open culture where all employees, no matter their job title, feel respected and understood encourages employees to provide support and share knowledge and insights with one another. This ultimately creates a positive wellbeing ecosystem through which a healthier, more resilient culture and mindset can grow. Identifying influential members of the organisation as advocates for speaking about mental wellbeing and their struggles can help to eliminate any stigma around poor mental health and instil the mantra that ‘it is ok not to be ok’.
The next step for wellbeing in banking
The success of a banking organisation depends on the productivity and performance of its workforce. This requires access to training and tools to help employees thrive when scenarios inside and outside of work impact wellbeing. Programmes that teach resilience and are tailored to the organisation and its people will cultivate happier, healthier workplace cultures, and reduce staff turnover.