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Factors to promote employee wellbeing and resilience

Helen Reeve Morris, Director of Policy, Research and Strategy

Over recent years, there has been a growing public interest in employee wellbeing. Indeed, we’ve seen it shoot up the business and political agenda not least in response to the Stevenson / Farmer review published in October 2017[1] on how employers can better support the mental health of all people currently in employment.

In a recent blog[2] on why employee wellbeing matters to organisations, our Policy Associate, Maximilian Weidlich spoke about the impact employment has on our wellbeing. He explained that ‘experts from a wide range of organisations, such as the WhatWorks Centre for Wellbeing[3] agree that almost nothing has as great an impact on our wellbeing as employment, and this impact can be both positive and negative’. He also argued that, aside from employee wellbeing being a good thing to care about in and of itself, it is also linked to better business outcomes and, crucially, better outcomes for customers and wider society.

The personal resilience and wellbeing of employees in the banking sector has, however, shown to be a key area of concern. Each year we undertake an assessment of our member firms. Last year, as part of this assessment, we conducted an employee survey of over 36,000 employees working in 25 banks and building societies in the UK. With 44% saying they often felt under excessive pressure to perform in their work and over a quarter agreeing with the statement: ‘Working in my organisation has a negative impact on my health and wellbeing’ we wanted to find out more.

Our assessment data suggested that merely having a wellbeing programme was not enough to distinguish between those firms who scored better and those that scored worse. Instead, it pointed to the importance of addressing the underlying factors that contribute to employee wellbeing such as the quality of line management, the consistency of approach across the firm and the extent to which employees are trusted and they in turn trust their leaders.

We were keen to understand if there were other situational factors that affect employee wellbeing, so commissioned a literature review to see what we could learn from existing published research.

We explored research relating to factors that may affect personal wellbeing (mental and physical health as well as subjective wellbeing) in the workplace and particularly in the context of highly regulated industries characterised by high degrees of pressure and/or prescriptive processes.

Research that aims to explain variation in levels of employee wellbeing tends to look at individual factors – such as personality – or situational factors of the workplace – such as physical work settings or organisational culture. Our focus here was on these latter situational factors that organisations and managers can potentially do something about.

This investigation of the available research suggests eight situational factors that employers – both within the banking sector and outside it – may find useful when considering how most effectively to promote employee wellbeing and resilience. This list of factors is clearly neither exhaustive nor prescriptive but may provide a helpful starting point for practical steps.

The eight factors are summarised for an audience of practitioners and those interested in building their wellbeing vocabulary, hopefully enabling them to initiate conversations about existing practices and processes in their workplace. The document also links to a list of sources to provide evidence and further reading.

Later this year we will publish an in-depth analysis of our latest Assessment results in our 2019 Annual Review, which for the first time contained an additional question about the causes of poor wellbeing in the banking sector. This analysis will build on the work we’ve published today and will provide unique insights into which factors affect employee wellbeing most in UK banks and building societies.