- Study of 13,271 employees indicate how isolation, anxiety and illness have intensified long standing tensions felt from social issues, affecting mental health
- 18-24 year olds suffer with the poorest wellbeing – feeling less connected to colleagues, increased loneliness and increased financial concerns
- First of a series of reports published by Perkbox highlight why, in the face of enormous social challenges, workplace wellbeing should matter to employers more than ever
From coronavirus to the social injustices highlighted by Black Lives Matter – 2020’s events compounded by the effects of isolation, anxiety and illness – has taken its toll on the wellbeing of 93% UK employees, according to a new study of 13,271 employees and 366 business leaders analysing workplace wellbeing.
The research led by Perkbox, the employee experience platform, revealed that 73% of respondents felt that coronavirus had negatively impacted on their mental health – with increased loneliness resulting from remote working and greater worries about financial security fuelling if not exacerbating current daily anxieties.
Curse of the young in COVID: loneliness and financial despair
The study highlights how workers, aged 18-24, are struggling the most with managing their wellbeing in the age of COVID; 31% profess to experiencing ‘poor mental wellbeing’ in comparison to just 13% of employees in the 55+ age group. Health and safety concerns, isolation and disruption to routine magnified by the likelihood that younger workers are typically employed in industries most affected by lockdown (e.g. retail, hospitality & leisure) add significant financial worry to an already heady cocktail of concerns that impact on overall wellbeing. For example, over 1 in 5 (21%) of 18-24 year olds rate their financial health as ‘poor’ compared to 15% of 25-34 year olds and 13% of 45-54 year olds.
Research revealed the five most pressing wellbeing challenges that employees currently face include:
- Feeling ‘less connected’ to company and colleagues (41%)
- An increased feeling of loneliness and isolation (38%)
- Greater financial concerns (38%)
- Burnout in managing work life and home life simultaneously (37%)
- Sedentary lifestyle impacting on physical health (35%)
Saurav Chopra, CEO and co-founder of Perkbox, commented: “Wellbeing issues are unsurprisingly on the rise, not least because of the unique set of challenges faced with the pandemic. Although in the minority, it’s important that employers do more to identify those in their teams who describe their wellbeing as ‘very poor’ before this escalates into a serious problem. Making the wellbeing of staff a priority will be intrinsic to building a successful business post-COVID. People – whether consumers or employees – won’t forget brands and businesses who have failed to support their staff or customers at a time of great need.”
Mental wellness in the face of social unrest
The extent of systemic racism, highlighted by a spate of incidents that mobilised global Black Lives Matter protests, has had a negative impact on the mental health of 27% of employees.
While a third of bosses (in companies with 100-249 staff) admitted that employees were mentally affected by such injustices and social unrest, only 22% of leaders addressed Black Lives Matter within their organisation – raising questions on whether corporate silence may have compounded feelings of neglect experienced by workers who do not think their employers have done enough to support them during an already challenging time.
Further research showed that 34% of bosses didn’t believe having a firm stance on social issues was important (26% said ‘neither important or unimportant’; 5% said ‘somewhat unimportant’ and 2% said ‘very unimportant’), despite 52% stating that an organisation having a ‘purpose’ was among the top five essential elements for attracting and retaining the best talent.
Meanwhile, 17% of employers stated that CSR had in fact become less important since COVID – perhaps indicating a misconception that CSR is a ‘nice to have’ optional extra rather than a necessary part of company culture that engages employees and attracts new recruits.
Only a third of businesses reported to their people on diversity & inclusion initiatives and deliverables, while 27% did not think having a diverse workforce was important. Most alarmingly – 17% of smaller businesses (employing 50-99 people) stated Black Lives Matter movement had in fact made CSR less important to them. On a similar footing, the Australian bushfires, which ravaged the country at the beginning of 2020 and claimed the lives of over 1bn animals, made CSR less important to 21% of businesses (employing 100-500 staff) – raising the question on whether organisations of that size think they’re less culpable for climate change, believing it’s the responsibility of larger businesses to spearhead sustainability initiatives. Alternatively, this ‘detachment’ could be down to geography.
“Social crises and quarantine have largely given people time to reflect on what is and isn’t important in life,” commented Saurav Chopra. “And while ‘purpose’ has been a much bandied about term in the corporate world pre-Covid, against the current context, people want to shop with businesses that align better with their personal values and work with companies for the same reason too. We anticipate that CSR will be even more important for businesses wanting to engage, attract and retain talent in a post-Covid world. In terms of Black Lives Matter, undoubtedly there will be employees – especially those of a BAME background – who will identify very deeply with experiences of racism and be traumatised by the events and videos that have spurred global protests. Clearly there are mental health repercussions. This presents a crucial time for employers to check in with their team; to reflect on how – as businesses – they can do better, both as a responsible organisation that can effect meaningful change, and as a caring employer. With only 5% of UK’s small businesses are ethnic minority-led, leaders need to look outside of their bias – whether conscious or unconscious – to do more to improve diversity.”
How employer trust affects employee wellbeing in the age of remote working
While there are many published studies supporting the hypothesis that autonomy at work lifts morale, Perkbox’s study revealed a direct positive correlation between an employer’s trust and an employee’s mental wellbeing at work. Half of employees who feel that their employer completely distrusts them (in being as productive working from home as they would be in the office) currently experience poor mental wellbeing. Conversely, 61% of employees who felt completely trusted by their employer profess to having ‘good’ or ‘very good’ wellbeing.
Overall, 88% of employees feel that their employers have looked after them well during the pandemic, with many companies taking extra steps to support employees, including:
- Checking in to see how staff are individually coping (45%)
- Allowing more flexibility in working hours (33%)
- Organising social meetings and activities to maintain good communication between teams (32%)
- Providing access to tools help improve wellbeing (e.g. online resources, wellness apps) (28%)
- More compassionate leadership / taken a softer, people-centric approach to management (19%)
- Giving access to free therapy (12%)
In fact, during the pandemic, 28% of businesses implemented both emotional and financial wellbeing initiatives since lockdown, with a further 36% of businesses planning to invest more in employee wellbeing initiatives post-Covid.
“Autonomy has shown itself to be the key to workplace happiness, with academic studies supporting the idea that freedom from micromanagement lifts morale. So trust is really key to the success of such programmes, and our research supports that,” commented Saurav Chopra. “The lockdown period has been dubbed ‘the world’s largest work-from-home experiment`t’. Our study showed that a huge 60% of people had ‘never’ worked from home before the pandemic, but any employers who were previously reticent about adopting flexible working practices pre-Covid will have less reason for their reluctance – especially if they have made remote working a relative success amid today’s challenges. Although we think the office space is far from ‘dead’ in a post-Covid world, flexible working practices will be more readily adopted; if not it then it should merit serious discussion – particularly if the benefits relating to productivity, happiness and creativity is tangible.”
Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key
By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK
As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.
Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).
Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.
With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?
Keep people at the heart of change
It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.
Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.
Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.
Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.
Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)
Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.
Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.
Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.
Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.
Staggered return-to-office planning
Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.
An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.
Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.
Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy
Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.
Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.
UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine.
1. Canvas for Business
Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.
With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.
Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.
2. Engage for Business
Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses.
3. Freedom for Business
With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs.
Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services.
Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more.
Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.
“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.”
Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver
Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours
A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.
The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:
- If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
- If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
- If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider
The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:
- For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
- For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
- In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours
The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.
“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.
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