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Guest blog: Making employee well-being a board level priority

We are seeing an increased recognition by Boards that the well-being and mental health of executives and employees needs to be prioritised. Not just because this aligns with a Society’s values but also because it is commercially savvy to do so. 

Historically, financial services has long been recognised as a demanding place to work. And on-going research continues to highlight that it is the sector with the highest recorded levels of mental illness based absenteeism. It is suggested that the financial crisis, its aftermath and the increased personal responsibility from new regulations are taking their toll.  More broadly, people are under pressure, are often expected to do more with fewer resources, individual debt is spiralling, and stressful family issues such as divorce, childcare and eldercare are ever-present. 

A recent Gallup State of Global Workforce survey found that 53% of workers experience financial stress, 76% struggle with physical well-being and 85% are actively disengaged from their work. In addition, the World Health Organization reports that mental disorder affects one in four people, and estimates that lost productivity due to depression and anxiety costs the global economy $1 Trillion, impacting organisation effectiveness through increased absenteeism, widespread presenteeism, low productivity and high employee turnover. 

And technology, often touted as a productivity enabler through the flexibility, connectivity and unprecedented access to information it offers, is also a double-edged sword. For many, it has simply extended the workday, making them feel as though they have to stay connected, and so available, 24/7.

So, it has never been more important to ensure we not only have the right people in the right roles but that they also have the right support. Culture is key to this and the tone is set for ‘the way we do things round here’ from the top. Boards and executives need to be asking themselves whether the Society is just box-ticking when it comes to their key constructs such as their values and wellbeing programmes. Or is it truly in dialogue with employees with the aim of creating real-world, relevant and practical policies that make a positive difference to individuals both inside and outside of their work. 

Many senior employees (particularly men) are hesitant to share with anyone at work if they feel (or have previously felt) they were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression. Therefore, to help tackle this previously ‘taboo’ topic we need to create cultures which foster trust, openness and support. Boards need to have confidence in challenging their senior leaders on the organisation action plan for mental health and well-being. To do this they themselves need to understand the causes, symptoms and steps that can be taken. One such proactive solution might be to take steps to dial down high-pressure environments, ensuring values are truly translated into behaviours so that conversation can be both honest and open and executives are not being poor role models by for example setting the precedent of long hours – or quantity over quality of input.

The building society sector has always been purpose-led and advocated the importance of its members. Now is the time to truly differentiate by applying the same ambition for its people. Market leading organisations have diverse Boards, a clear people strategy and joined up and well executed Value Propositions for employees.  Making workplaces open and supportive will not only improve well-being, it will drive productivity, innovation, cooperation and so profitability. And ensure we continue to attract talent to our Societies.

Posted by Deborah Cooper on 20 February 2020