Staff resilience amid volatile and challenging times

  • 19 May 2023
  • Blog | Leadership & Strategy | Blog

Signposting sources of support 

Amid the fallout of the rising cost of living, it’s likely that frontline staff will be dealing with customers who are under increasing financial pressure and feeling short tempered as a result. What can banks do to support the emotional health of their employees? 

The impacts of the ongoing effects of the pandemic and an uncertain economic outlook on the general population are well known. But less attention is paid to the staff working on the front line of retail banking. If banks are to effectively help their customers in these challenging times, they need to support the emotional well-being of their staff and help them build emotional resilience. 

“Retail banking staff have first-hand experience with a public that are facing the kind of pressure we haven’t seen in a generation, including slipping living standards and falling wages,” says Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser Employment Relations, The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD); a charity setting professional workplace standards and championing better working lives. 

Staff are increasingly vulnerable to customers taking their frustrations out on them and can potentially face harassment or violence, notes Suff. This can have a huge impact on emotional well-being. “You need to make sure that you have got signposting to sources of support your organisation can offer. So when people start to have problems with their health or are feeling stressed they can talk about their health issues.” 

Suff encourages banks to create an “open, inclusive and supportive climate around mental health,” which also requires ensuring staff have good working conditions and are not overloaded. Even encouraging employees to find the time to switch off from work can make a big difference, she says. 

“It’s about being proactive and promoting good training and awareness around well-being; offering lots of social networking opportunities because peer support is so important. Make sure that your leaders take the lead, that they send out positive messages about mental health and lifestyle and embed health and well-being into your organisation’s DNA.” 

When it comes to supporting mental well-being, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every workplace has its different requirements, and that’s just as true for the people who work within them. Banks should think carefully about the frameworks they put in place to support their workforce, believes Suff. 

“Organisations need to make sure that their health and well-being frameworks are not just a massive menu of initiatives but are based on the outcomes of the evidence you have collected, surveys and focus groups and occupational health data. You should keep monitoring the impact of what you’re putting in place to ensure it’s really making a difference.” 

Create a ‘people strategy’ 

Banks are increasingly aware of the need to support their staff’s emotional well-being but they also need to have a long-term strategy in place, says Duncan Rzysko, Chief of Creativity, Happiness & Innovation, The Stress Management Society. 

“Putting in place an Employee Assistance Programme is the bare minimum you should be doing and it’s only for short-term mental health support. You need a robust well-being strategy, not an initiative that you just do once. It’s got to be as important as your marketing or your sales or anything else,” he emphasises. 

“It’s part of your people strategy. It’s about looking after people and looking after talent, attracting the best and keeping the best. Every business needs to ensure that their workplace is healthy. And you can do it. You do it with data, with clear strategy – with guidelines, pathways and support. 

“In an economic downturn the first things to go are the things that businesses think are nice to do; the pink and fluffy stuff. Well-being, unfortunately, often falls under that banner. But it’s not. It’s absolutely central. In fact, it’s a legal requirement under the Health and Safety Executive [HSE] to perform a stress risk assessment on your people.” 

Supporting remote workers 

The pandemic drove a major shift in working practices, with the rise of remote and hybrid working. A recent report from Culture Shift entitled Maintaining Workplace Culture in a Rapidly Changing Environment, revealed that 54% of employees in the FS sector said that working from home has a positive impact on their worklife balance. Omair Makhdumi, Head of Marketing, Bank Workers Charity, thinks that remote working is good for employee well-being, but it has its challenges. 

“For a number of people, working from home gives them the flexibility to take their kids to and from school, to do the laundry; to manage their home and make their work-life balance a lot better. But it also becomes harder for managers to notice any signs of distress and provide support if staff members aren’t physically in front of them. But, on the other hand, a large number of people have benefited hugely from an improved work-life balance.” 

Where appropriate, banks should facilitate remote working practices that align to the needs of their organisation with the needs of their workforce. Adapting to this new world of work requires understanding the role of managers, says Ryzsko. 

“I think a manager’s role has changed significantly. Managers need to upgrade their skills. It’s not so much about asking what people are doing as asking them how they are doing. They need support, and a space for a debrief, even if it’s a place to vent or get a bit of perspective. Where managers are checking in with people, and taking interest in them as individuals, they’ve had a better outcome; people have stayed, they’ve been more loyal.” 

Aiding recovery 

A wide range of support is available for banks that want to ensure their staff are happy and effective in their working lives. Organisations can sign up to the The Mental Health At Work Commitment, a widely used framework designed to promote employee well-being. Its signatories include Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, and Santander UK. 

“Retail banking staff have first-hand experience with a public that are facing the kind of pressure we haven’t seen in a generation.” Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser Employment Relations, CIPD 

Help is also available from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), an independent public body that provides free and impartial advice and workshops to help employers promote good mental health in the workplace. Banks can also provide support for marginalised groups such as women, BAME (Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority) people, those with disabilities and LGTBTQ+ people, says Makhdumi. 

“We work very closely with banks in the UK and complement the support that they have available. We’re supporting lots of people around cost-ofliving increases, people who are maybe falling into arrears or debt through no fault of their own, or have fallen upon hard times. We mustn’t forget that people are still acquiring disabilities and lifechanging illnesses. Then there are issues such as bereavement or relationship problems, as well as the cost‑of‑living crisis. 

“It makes it harder for people to cope with all the other things. So, if an individual is perhaps experiencing a bout of depression or anxiety, or falling into debt, it’s harder for that person to recover. We’re able to provide grants that help with cost-of-living increases, but also to support individuals who might have disabilities.”