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Paul Barrett

Bank Workers Charity

Head of Wellbeing

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Is your wellbeing strategy really meeting your employees’ needs?


Wellbeing. It’s on everyone’s lips at the moment. It’s no wonder with increasingly pressurised work environments, redundancies and an increase in the prevalence of mental health problems and stress in the UK workforce. There is a lot of talk about the introduction of wellbeing strategies to alleviate these problems but are employers doing enough?

Wellbeing strategies

Many organisations have strategies in place which tackle stress in the workplace. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provide the ‘Management Standards’ which can help businesses to achieve ‘a high level of health, wellbeing and organisational performance.’ For many organisations implementing the Management Standards ticks a box: dealing with stress and to some degree tackling the management culture. They may also form part of a wellbeing strategy incorporating support mechanisms like Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), which can provide help when employees feel they are not coping with their problems.

However, this may be only half the story. Are organisations considering the impact of non-work related factors on their employees? From caring responsibilities (both children and eldercare) to money worries and health problems – it is not yet fully understood what effect these factors have on employees at work. Is it reasonable to assume that by supporting only work issues, employees will be stress-free?

Non-work factors

We believe that non-work factors are having a significant negative impact on employees at work. We have undertaken major research with The Work Foundation and Robertson Cooper to quantify the impact of non-work stress on employee performance, commitment, and physical and psychological health in the financial sector.

The early findings confirmed our beliefs that bank workers at all levels of seniority are struggling to manage competing priorities including growing work intensity and increasing responsibilities of child and eldercare. These issues can result in reduced resilience and lack of employee engagement – both linked to employee wellbeing.

Other research suggests that whilst the most common cause of stress is workload, non-work factors such as personal relationships and family problems also represent a significant source of stress. (CIPD Absence Management Survey 2012.) This tallies with our own experience at the Bank Workers Charity where non-work issues form the bulk of our caseload.

The solution

Many employees see home-life issues as their responsibility, but their ability to rely on sources of support outside of work are reducing, resulting in their home life spilling over into the workplace. This suggests there is a gap in the provision of early intervention services and support for employees struggling with work-life boundary issues. So what can organisations do as part of an effective wellbeing strategy?  

We believe that a two-pronged approach to employee wellbeing, that takes into account personal as well as work life, will have the biggest impact.

Preventative measures will avoid many work problems occurring in the first place, whilst  those that do can be picked up at an early stage, making them easier to resolve. These include:

  • Having policies and procedures in place. These can address key wellbeing issues such as stress and work-life balance.
  • Training managers in how to recognise stress and to support  stressed employees. Organisations such as Mind offer effective training in this area.
  • Adopting positive managerial behaviours. Managerial style and behaviours are known to be one of the biggest stress factors for employees. Training managers in the range of behaviours most likely to engage and motivate their teams will result in reduced stress levels and a happier and more productive workforce.
  • Creating an open management culture. Identifying early signs of stress is only possible if you have an open management culture. Employees should feel comfortable speaking to their manager about their problems without risk of censure.  Everyone from the CEO down needs to buy-in to this approach.

Reactive measures will enable employees to access support with any problems that do arise. They include:

  • Providing easy access to Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP). If you do have an EAP, promote it well as it can be an invaluable resource for employees who are struggling.
  • Providing information about further help outside of the organisation on non-work issues. An EAP may provide limited support and only around work issues. There are over 3000 charitable funds which can offer various forms of help including financial support. Take a look at Turn2us which enables people to search for support based on their occupation. Other organisations such as ours may also be able to provide further support with a wide range of non-work issues.

Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Co-founder of Robertson Cooper, sums it up:

“In my experience of working with organisations on stress and wellbeing issues over the last forty years, I have frequently been struck by the need to take a more preventative approach. Many organisations now offer support through services such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) but such support tends to be provided when workers are already experiencing quite severe stress or mental health problems, with a very limited range of support options.”

Clearly there are many areas that need to be considered to improve the wellbeing of employees and to create a healthy organisational culture; a clear process to tackle employee problems, (whether they arise at home or at work),  an open management culture,  management training,  effective support systems – all provided before an employee hits crisis point. Adopting such measures will do a great deal to improve employee resilience and engagement.

The Bank Workers Charity will continue to work in the wellbeing arena and contribute to the debate. The boundary between employees work and personal lives is poorly understood and organisations have often struggled to respond effectively when problems from home surface in the workplace. We continue to research this area in the financial sector and believe that the lessons we are learning and the solutions we are developing have relevance for other business sectors too. 

Author Profile Picture
Paul Barrett

Head of Wellbeing

Read more from Paul Barrett

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