Annual Review 2017/2018
BSB WORK THEME 3
Promoting personal resilience and wellbeing among employees
The 2016 Assessment highlighted concerns about the personal resilience and wellbeing of employees in the banking sector. Notwithstanding the increased focus on this issue in the interim both within the sector and more widely (and in particular with respect to mental health), it shows no sign in our 2017 exercise of having receded. Just over a quarter of Survey respondents said in 2017 that working in their organisation had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing; the same proportion as in 2016. It would be interesting to explore how far this picture is replicated in sectors other than banking.
The wellbeing of employees is important to organisations, both because employee care is the right thing to do as an employer, and because — as a growing body of evidence shows7 — it appears to be 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; and
- improvements in individual performance8 and wider productivity9.
We took the opportunity of the 2017 Assessment to explore this topic further, selecting it as a theme for our focus group discussions and interviews, and undertaking more detailed and systematic analysis of the relevant quantitative data obtained in the 2016 and 2017 Survey data. We also held additional roundtable discussions with member firms that had not taken part in the qualitative part of the Assessment (i.e. where we had not held focus groups with employees). These roundtables both supplemented our qualitative data, and facilitated the sharing of good practice and discussion of challenges between member firms.
In late 2017 we began to review the available literature on employee wellbeing, focusing particularly on evidence relevant to banking. Employee wellbeing is a wide-ranging subject covering many elements and issues. Our own review has focused on those factors that firms might reasonably expect to be able to influence in the workplace or are responsible for, including:
- the impact of workload on wellbeing, including factors that could potentially moderate negative impacts;
- perceptions of autonomy and control within a job;
- perceptions of job insecurity;
- relationships at work; and
- the interface between home and work.
Many of these factors are reflected in the themes coming out of our analysis of the 2017 Assessment, described below.
Employee wellbeing and resilience remains a key theme for the BSB in 2018/19, and is an issue that has been gaining momentum more widely. The Thriving at Work report — to take just one example, published in October 2017 — looked at how employers can better support the mental health of all people currently in employment.11 This report proposed mental health ‘core standards’ which all employers could implement, as well as enhanced standards for those ambitious to do more. It also called on industry bodies to help organisations in their sectors to implement these core standards.
While focusing on mental health, these core standards12 echo the findings of our own work in terms of factors that appear important to overall employee wellbeing, e.g.:
- organisation-wide planning to support employee health;
- a good physical working environment;
- providing healthy work life balance and opportunities for development;
- effective people management through line manager and supervisors;
- an open culture that allows employees to speak up when they are struggling or need additional support; and
- developing organisation-level understanding of employee wellbeing and mental health.
As the Thriving at Work report notes, more evidence is needed about what constitutes good practice in this area, and our own engagement with member firms and other organisations with an interest in wellbeing has underlined the appetite for better information on what works in improving employee wellbeing, in banking as elsewhere.
Many firms are already devoting significant resources to the wellbeing of their employees. The question is whether these are being deployed as effectively as possible, and addressing the causes of the problem as well as the symptoms. To facilitate the identification and sharing of good practice across the sector, we plan to hold a series of events for member firms over the coming year that will enable participants to learn from others (both within and outside the banking sector) and to share their own experience (see https://bankingstandardsboard.org.uk/events-programme/).
Over the longer term, and as the new BSB Insights team develops (see section on New Approaches for the BSB) we hope to be able to help member firms test the impact of the interventions they are making to support employee wellbeing, so that efforts and resources are focused in the most effective way. We plan to begin discussing this approach with member firms later in 2018, identifying in the first instance where the BSB’s own efforts can most usefully be applied, and informed by the findings of the 2018 Assessment.
- See, for example, https://www.whatworkswellbeing.org/product/why-invest-in-employee-wellbeing/
- Does worker wellbeing affect workplace performance?, Bryson et al., October 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/366637/bis-14-1120-does-worker-wellbeing-affect-workplace-performance-final.pdf
- Dame Carol Black’s Review of the health of Britain’s working age population: Working for a healthier tomorrow, March 2008: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/209782/hwwb-working-for-a-healthier-tomorrow.pdf
- Thriving at work: The Stephenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf
- Ibid. p.6: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf
What the Survey evidence tells us on this theme
Our analysis of the Survey results suggests that there has been very little change between 2016 and 2017 on questions relating to wellbeing and personal resilience.
In 2016, we asked respondents whether they agree with the statement, ‘I often feel under considerable pressure to perform in my work’. 59% of employees said that they did agree with this statement; 24%, that they did not. For the reasons described in Box B, however, we amended this question in 2017 to read ‘I often feel under excessive pressure to perform in my work’ (wording that will remain unchanged in 2018). As would be expected, the balance of responses changed as a result; 44% of employees agreed with the amended statement, and 37% disagreed.
We cannot say whether this change in responses is due entirely or only partly to the change in the question wording, so do not treat the results for this question in 2017 as comparable to those of 2016. Even as a snapshot, however, that more than 2 in 5 employees consider themselves to be under ‘excessive’ pressure is not a picture that many firms would consider satisfactory.
While the change in Q28 from asking about ‘considerable’ to asking about ‘excessive’ pressure contributed to a reduction in responses agreeing with the statement, there was no change in the proportion of people saying that their work was having a negative impact on their health and wellbeing (Q29). In both 2016 and 2017, 26% of employees said that work did have a negative impact, and fewer than in 3 in 5 that it did not.
As noted in our last Annual Review, respondents could have a number of things in mind when answering this question. The nature, management, pressures and location of work could all be factors, as well as the challenges of balancing work with everything else going on in their lives. We also do not know how the figure of over a quarter of employees saying that work is adversely affecting their health and wellbeing compares with other sectors (though it is reasonable to envisage that banking has neither the highest nor lowest proportion in this regard). As with Q28 on pressure, however, the absence of comparative data — here, with other sectors rather than over time — should not detract from the reality of a quarter of employees saying over the course of two years, that working at their organisation has a negative impact on their health and wellbeing.
Box B: Changes to the wording of Survey questions in 2017
|Question in 2016 Survey||Reason for change||Revised question in 2017 Survey|
|Q15. I clearly understand the behaviour that is expected of me||Possible illusory superiority bias (i.e. individuals overestimating their own qualities and abilities)||Q15. In my experience people in my area clearly understand the behaviour expected of them|
|Q18. I see people in my organisation try to pass responsibility to others in case things go wrong||Clarity||Q18. I see people in my organisation try to avoid responsibility in case something goes wrong|
|Q22. I feel confident in my ability to identify risks in my area||Possible illusory superiority bias||Q22. I am confident in the ability of people in my area to identify risks|
|Q28. I often feel under considerable pressure to perform in my work||Recognition that ‘considerable’ can be interpreted too widely, and seen as both good and bad||Q28. I often feel under excessive pressure to perform in my work|
|While changes in scores for these questions in 2017 may stem from changes in the perceptions and observations of respondents, they will also reflect the modified framing of these questions. We would expect the latter impact to be small for the change made to Q18 and have therefore in this Review presented the responses to this question as comparable across 2016 and 2017.|
Given the more substantive changes to the wording of Q15, Q22 and Q28, we have not treated the 2017 results for these questions as comparable with 2016. Comparisons will, however, be available in 2018 and future Surveys.
Fig. 29 Personal resilience and wellbeing in 2016 and 2017
Looking at the results by business area, a particularly high proportion of employees in both Investment Banking and Commercial Banking said that they felt under ‘considerable’ pressure in 2016. The subsequent fall in respondents saying that they were under ‘excessive’ pressure in 2017 was especially marked in Investment Banking. In 2016 more employees in Investment Banking said that they felt under considerable pressure than those in other business areas; the opposite was true in 2017 with respect to excessive pressure.
Fig. 30 Q28 (pressure) by business area in 2016 and 2017
Fig 31 Q29 (impact on health) by business area in 2016 and 2017
Despite the large change in the balance of responses to Q28, the proportion of employees in Investment Banking who said that work had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing (Q29) remained higher at 29% than in other business areas. This may reflect a wide range of factors, whether individual, firm-specific, sectoral or general. To the extent that excessive pressure detracts from health and wellbeing, it may also be the case that employees working in Investment Banking do not necessarily feel less pressure, but that their concept of what is ‘excessive’ differs from that used elsewhere in the sector.
Turning to our demographic indicators, a somewhat similar pattern in responses over the two years is evident among line managers. Controlling for other variables, line managers reported significantly greater ‘considerable’ pressure in 2016 than did those without line management responsibilities, but significantly less ‘excessive’ pressure than those without line management responsibilities in 2017. As in 2016, line managers were less likely than those without line management responsibilities to say that work had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing.
Analysis by tenure also reveals some differences. All of our Survey questions are answered more positively by employees who have been at their firm for less than one year. The decline in positivity between new joiners and employees who have been at the firm for a few years is, however, particularly marked for Q29 on the impact of work on health and wellbeing. This drop is particularly pronounced among employees in Retail and Commercial Banking.
The question most highly correlated with Q29 is Q28 (‘I often feel under excessive pressure to perform in my work’). The question that has the second highest correlation to Q29 is Q5 (‘At work I feel that I am treated with respect’).Fig. 32 Personal resilience (Q28 and Q29) by tenure in 2017
What the qualitative evidence (focus groups) suggests is relevant to this theme
Consistency of approach across the firm
Perceived unfairness of treatment across different parts of a firm, featured prominently among focus group participants working in areas that scored poorly in the Survey on wellbeing and personal resilience. Organisational justice emerges from our findings as an important potential influence on individuals’ wellbeing.Fig 33 Treating different parts of the firm consistently
- Employees from lower-scoring business areas more commonly described what they saw as inconsistent and therefore unfair treatment within their firm of different departments, teams or geographic areas.
- These comments related not only to participants’ own teams or locations, but also to where people in other areas and locations were seen as having been disadvantaged.
- Examples given of inconsistent treatment included:
- differential access to support services between regional branches and urban hubs;
- colleagues in different location having different workloads;
- the availability of IT support varying between departments; and
- policies designed to promote wellbeing, being followed more diligently in some teams than in others.
- Employees from higher-scoring business areas discussed the benefits of flexibility, such as enabling a positive work-life balance and a healthy lifestyle. Focus group participants from lower-scoring business areas more commonly voiced concerns about the way policies designed to enhance flexibility were implemented in practice (e.g. difficulties with IT getting in the way of working from home).
- Among focus group participants from lower-scoring business areas, examples used to illustrate how a lack of trust manifested itself included the following:
- Some indicated a mistrust of colleagues working from home, in the sense that they were seen as likely to be less productive.
- Others felt that those doing traditional hours had to do more work to compensate for those working flexible hours, or said that they would feel uncomfortable if they were the only team member working this way.
- Some believed that their managers did not trust them, and as a result did not support flexible arrangements.
- Some business areas did not trust the motives of senior leaders. They felt that their firms did not genuinely care about employees’ wellbeing, but pursued flexible policies solely for other business reasons such as reducing the cost of office space.
The quality of line management featured in focus group discussions across both higher and lower-scoring firms, and was generally recognised as a critical determinant of any employee’s wellbeing13. Across firms, the findings suggest that improving managers’ awareness of their firms’ policies and the services available would be of benefit to the wellbeing of those they manage.Fig 35 Ensuring line managers are supportive
- Focus group participants from higher-scoring business areas more commonly described good line management support in relation to wellbeing, drawing both on their own experience and on their perception of managers throughout the firm. Examples included line managers clearing time in their diary to check in with employees, giving employees opportunities to share feelings of personal stress, enabling flexible working and relieving pressure by relaxing deadlines where possible. Some employees also gave examples of small gestures from their managers that had been appreciated, such as — when working late — ordering food or personally thanking the employee.
- Employees from lower-scoring business areas were less likely to offer positive line management examples and slightly more likely to raise concerns about the support they received. One such concern was that of managers being promoted for their technical skill, rather than because of their aptitude for or interest in leading people.
Resource planning and allocation
Resource constraints were a common theme across the focus group selected for analysis under this theme. Perceived poor planning, however, emerged as more of an issue among participants from lower-scoring business areas, exacerbating the resource pressures and the impact on wellbeing. Many of the points made in the context of resource planning may also have implications for perceptions of fairness – noted earlier as an important differentiator between higher and lower-scoring firms on this theme.Fig 36 Managing resources effectively
- Participants in focus groups from both higher and lower-scoring business areas discussed a lack of employee resources, having to ‘do more with less’, excessive workloads and insufficient investment in IT.
- Small differences did, however, emerge between business areas when it came to the way in which firms responded to constrained resources. Employees from lower-scoring business areas were more likely to offer examples of poor resource planning, such as workloads not being shared evenly across teams or a perceived lack of support for teams facing shortages. Others felt that their firms did not fully consider the resource implications of major changes (e.g. the equipment needed after a relocation, or the time required for employees to adapt to new technology).
- Participants in some focus groups discussed policies intended to ease pressure on junior employees. Employees from lower-scoring business areas said that these policies had been implemented with little concern for middle managers, who as a consequence were left with higher workloads and put under greater
Support services and wellbeing facilities
Focus group participants from both higher and lower-scoring firms discussed facilities and support services intended to promote employee wellbeing. Such support was, if anything, mentioned more frequently by employees from lower-scoring firms. This may be a function of lower-scoring firms putting greater emphasis on the provision or promotion of support services, because of the greater scale of the challenge they are designed to address. There may also be a time lag between services being provided, and their having an impact and there is certainly no suggestion here that the provision and promotion of support services is not important or does not have an impact. How effective those support services are in practice, may, however, depend also on other factors, such as those mentioned previously in this section.Fig 37 Going beyond merely offering support services
- Focus group participants from both higher and lower-scoring business areas gave examples of wellbeing support services and facilities, including telephone helplines, office health checks, access to a gym, access to counselling, and training on stress and resilience. Many employees also referred to initiatives undertaken within their firms to raise awareness of mental health.
- Overall, employees from lower-scoring business areas mentioned their firm’s support services more frequently than those from higher-scoring business areas. They were also more likely to refer to their leaders emphasising wellbeing in communications with employees.
- Some employees said that, while services were technically available, they either found them difficult to access or felt discouraged from using them. Others thought that their firms’ wellbeing initiatives were reacting to a problem without addressing its underlying causes.
What the roundtables told us on this theme
Following the 2017 Assessment we conducted four roundtables for firms that had not taken part in the qualitative components of that exercise (primarily, our smaller member firms). The roundtables were held in London, Birmingham and Edinburgh, and involved senior HR managers and business managers from eleven firms. These sessions were designed to help us gain a more comprehensive understanding of the wellbeing challenges faced by firms of all types and sizes, and to facilitate the exchange between firms of good practice in this area.
Roundtable participants reflected on the extent to which the challenges around promoting wellbeing may take different forms in firms of different sizes. The ability of smaller firms to provide facilities and support services may be less than in larger. At the same time, however, leaders in smaller organisations can be more visible and have greater personal contact with employees, facilitating consistency and open communication. This can be a greater challenge in a larger organisation with employees in different divisions and geographic locations. For smaller firms looking to grow, one important challenge lies in scaling up their wellbeing programmes and initiatives consistently and fairly as their business expands.
While the implementation and leadership challenges around wellbeing may differ between smaller and larger firms, the themes emerging from the roundtable discussions suggested, however, that there are many common issues:
- Flexible working was seen as contributing to employee wellbeing. The challenge, however, was ensuring that flexible working policies were applied fairly across the organisation; customer-facing (e.g. in call centres) and non-customer facing roles, for example, tended to have different policies on this issue.
- Line managers were seen as having a central role in identifying when those they managed needed support. Examples were given of efforts to develop and provide more effective training for line managers on identifying and addressing mental health issues in particular.
- Openness and communication were seen as fundamental to the effectiveness of organisational initiatives that promote employee wellbeing. Leaders played an important role in promoting wellbeing throughout their organisations, in particular through being open and in the empathy and understanding they showed for employees. Participants also felt that leaders could sometimes do more to promote the importance of wellbeing interventions in their firms by sharing their own vulnerabilities and problems more widely.