By Ian Baker, Head of Workplace Design Consultancy, EMCOR UK
The issue of mental health in the workplace has been well documented in recent months. Countless media reports have highlighted the increasing levels of stress, anxiety and depression in Britain’s businesses. And the financial services sector is no exception.
In fact, reports suggest that finance workers in the UK are among the most stressed in the world, with research by recruitment consultancy Robert Half¹ finding that 78% of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) in the UK see stress levels rising in the next two years.
But why is this important? Five years on since the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) was launched in 2013 by senior business leaders from across the financial services sector following a number of suicides and scrutiny on long working hours, we are finally beginning to see mental health become a boardroom issue. Every organisation wants a productive, thriving workforce while retaining the best talent. And to achieve this, more organisations are waking up to the idea that people are their biggest asset—protect their wellbeing and the rest will follow.
Positive steps towards change
The CMHA recently launched its Guide to Thriving at Work², a unique toolkit to help businesses – mainly within the financial services sector – to become mentally healthy workplaces. The CMHA is a coalition of organisations that came together to create an environment in the City where mental health is discussed in the same way as physical health—and this framework has been deployed to provide a structured, practical approach to building a healthier, more productive workforce.
The framework includes a set of core standards that contain recommendations employers can implement to ensure they are helping their employees to thrive in the workplace. Suggested practices include developing mental health work plans to promote mental health and access to support, the sharing of health and wellbeing information, and training programmes. However, although it offers a great springboard from which organisations can launch and develop their own mental health policies, it doesn’t address one of the fundamental factors for improving workplace wellbeing: the workplace and its design.
The role of facilities management
That’s where the facilities management (FM) industry comes into play. Studies have shown that a positive company culture and the alignment of employees with office values results in a more engaged and productive workforce. It also helps to ensure that organisations not only attract top talent but are able to retain that talent for longer—building a stronger workforce that is working towards common goals and aspirations.
Organisations that are serious about mental health should evaluate their workplaces to see if they reflect the company culture and values and, if not, use building and office design to help align them. The workplace should be designed to promote these values, bringing them to life through the physical environment in which employees work every day.
The design and layout of an office – and even the building itself – has a recognisable impact on employee mental health and wellbeing. This was reflected by the recent introduction of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI); a global movement to transform buildings and communities to help people thrive. IWIB delivers the WELL Building Standard, which focuses exclusively on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve employees’ comfort, drive better choices and enhance health and wellness. Aligned to this new international standard for office design, FM is in a unique place to improve the environmental conditions of a building to improve performance and wellbeing.
Where and how we work, alongside changes in technology, has put increasing pressure on us and our workloads and is a common source of stress. Many organisations fail to recognise how important the workplace is and it’s often taken for granted. However, once the need to make our workplaces happier, healthier and more productive is realised a transformation and re-design of the workspace is often required.
There are simple steps to be taken. FM operates at the very heart of every workplace. FM’s can facilitate the creation of high-performance workplaces, with their in-depth knowledge of the organisation and cross departmental links, FM’s are ideally placed to lead employee engagement programmes that peak behind the façade of the organisation and can also perform utilisation studies to determine type of usage and ultimately the amount of floor area the organisation requires.
Many studies advocate the benefits of ‘activity-based working’, a design solution that provides a range of work settings to suit the different tasks employees need to perform (such as focussed rooms for concentration, project spaces for collaboration, breakout spaces for relaxation / contemplation or study) also contributing to improved engagement, collaboration and performance. Although this level of input into design isn’t a traditional FM role, many businesses and professional bodies are increasingly seeing workplace design as being best delivered from an FM angle.
Another important element of office design that impacts mental health is lighting. According to a survey by Lamp Shop Online³, 9.3% of employees surveyed said that the position of their workplace lighting created a ‘stressful environment.’ To prevent this unnecessary health concern, we are seeing a demand for effective lighting strategies that prevent poor lighting or excessive glare, and that can be catered specifically for each organisation’s requirements.
The issue of noise in the workplace is also an important factor. The majority of employees report continuous noise in their workspace and many say they lack quiet space for private meetings and quality focus time. A recent report by Leesman⁴ found that only 31% of the 300,000 respondents were satisfied with the noise levels in their workplace, despite 74% reporting that noise levels are important to them, added to the fact it is the strongest likely indicator of perceived poor productivity.
Similarly, air quality can also play a huge role in the overall productivity and health of employees. In particular, carbon dioxide (CO2) can have a measurable effect on how well people accomplish cognitively high-level tasks at work. A recent study by Harvard University⁵ found that when people breath in too much CO2 at their desk, their performance suffers—by up to 50% in some cases. With the right conditions, measured and controlled by FM, hidden factors such as air quality can be mitigated to improve productivity and wellbeing. Through design, businesses can create a range of spaces to accommodate different needs. By making sure the building is properly designed and giving people access to different levels of noise depending on their requirements, businesses can ensure that the effect of noise pollution on staff is minimal.
The way forward
Despite the UK still being a top location for financial services investment⁶, there is growing evidence that the financial industry’s workforce is falling behind its global counterparts in relation to mental health. The CMHA has taken positive steps towards empowering City organisations to take ownership of mental health practices. However, new policies and training procedures can only go so far—employers need to take the development of their office environments seriously if they are to truly be happier and more productive. The role of FM in implementing successful workplace design strategies will be key if the UK FS industry is to become a world leader in workplace wellbeing.
¹ Research by recruitment consultancy Robert Half, released in February 2018, revealed that finance workers are among the most stressed in the world with 78% of CFOs in the UK predicting stress levels to rise in the next two years.
² Launched in July 2018 by the CMHA, the Guide to Thriving at Work is a unique toolkit to help businesses which employ over 500 people to become mentally healthy workplaces.
³ A survey by Lamp Shop Online revealed that 9.3% of employees surveyed said that the position of their workplace lighting created a ‘stressful environment’.
⁴ The latest edition of the Leesman Review revealed that only 31% of the 300,000 respondents to Index were satisfied with the noise levels in their workplace, despite 74% saying that noise levels were important to them.
⁶ Coverage in the Daily Telegraphfrom July 2018 citing the UK as still being a top location for financial services in
U.S. inauguration turns poet Amanda Gorman into best seller
WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The president’s poet woke up a superstar on Thursday, after a powerful reading at the U.S. inauguration catapulted 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list.
Hours after Gorman’s electric performance at the swearing-in of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, her two books – neither out yet – topped Amazon.com’s sales list.
“I AM ON THE FLOOR MY BOOKS ARE #1 & #2 ON AMAZON AFTER 1 DAY!” Gorman, a Los Angeles resident, wrote on Twitter.
Gorman’s debut poetry collection ‘The Hill We Climb’ won top spot in the online retail giant’s sale charts, closely followed by her upcoming ‘Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem’.
While poetry’s popularity is on the up, it remains a niche market and the overnight adulation clearly caught Gorman short.
“Thank you so much to everyone for supporting me and my words. As Yeats put it: ‘For words alone are certain good: Sing, then’.”
Gorman, the youngest poet in U.S. history to mark the transition of presidential power, offered a hopeful vision for a deeply divided country in Wednesday’s rendition.
“Being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it,” Gorman said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol two weeks after a mob laid siege and following a year of global protests for racial justice.
“We will not march back to what was. We move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”
The performance stirred instant acclaim, with praise from across the country and political spectrum, from the Republican-backing Lincoln Project to former President Barack Obama.
“Wasn’t @TheAmandaGorman’s poem just stunning? She’s promised to run for president in 2036 and I for one can’t wait,” tweeted former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
A graduate of Harvard University, Gorman says she overcame a speech impediment in her youth and became the first U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017.
She has now joined the ranks of august inaugural poets such as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.
Her social media reach boomed, with her tens of thousands of followers ballooning into a Twitter fan base of a million-plus.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I,” tweeted TV host Oprah Winfrey.
Gorman’s books are both due out in September.
Third on Amazon’s best selling list was another picture book linked to politics and projecting hope: ‘Ambitious Girl’ by Vice-President Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Why brands harnessing the power of digital are winning in this evolving business landscape
By Justin Pike, Founder and Chairman, MYPINPAD
Delivery of intuitive, secure, personalised, and frictionless user experiences has long been table stakes in digital commerce, well before the era of COVID-19. As businesses harness the revolutionary power of digital technologies, they have pursued large-scale change to adapt to evolving consumer preferences (some more successfully than others, but that’s a blog for another day). Digital transformation is a term we hear repeatedly, and it looks different for each organisation, but essentially, it’s about utilising technology and data to digitise, automate, innovate and improve processes and the customer experience across the entire business.
As I said, this was already well underway but then came 2020 and no industry escaped the disruption of the coronavirus outbreak, which has had an indelible impact on businesses performance, operations, and revenue. Regardless of whether the impact of COVID has been very positive or very challenging, it has forced organisations globally to re-evaluate and re-orient strategies to adapt.
As lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions continue to change daily life, this raises the question of how we can balance a dramatic shift to digital and the benefits it brings, while ensuring business continuity and innovation both during and post-COVID, and protecting everyone against fraud?
Digital is an essential survival tool, and even more so in a COVID world
No one could have predicted the dramatic digital pivot that has taken place over this year. Indeed, within weeks of the COVID outbreak cash usage in the UK dropped by around 50%. Digital solutions including delivery applications, contactless payments, mobile commerce, online and mobile banking have become essential components of a touchless customer experience in the era of social distancing. It’s no longer just about an enhanced and superior customer experience, it’s also about health, safety and survival.
In store, businesses have benefited from contactless payments enabling faster throughput and reduced need for consumers to touch payment terminals (therefore requiring greater cleaning, which degrades the hardware much faster). Mastercard reported a 40% increase in contactless payments – including tap-to-pay and mobile pay – during the first quarter of the year as the global pandemic worsened. Digital has also become an essential sales channel for many B2C brands. Where brick and mortar stores have been required to close, digital commerce enables continuity of customer relationships and revenue. This channel also provides brands with rich customer data, which can be used to enhance and personalise the customer experience and typically results in greater levels of engagement and uplifts in revenue.
Industry forecasts estimate that worldwide spending on the technologies and services enabling digital transformation will reach GBP 1.8 trillion in 2023 – a clear indication that the process represents a long-term investment and a global commitment to digital-first strategy. The key point here is that digital brings significant benefits, and regardless of COVID, is here to stay.
The challenges that rapid digital transformation brings to businesses
Regardless of whether businesses are operating in developed or less-developed economies, these times of crisis have levelled the playing field in the sense that all businesses are facing similar issues. Access to products and supplies, maintaining customer relationships, accelerating sales for some and declining sales for others, health and hygiene are just a few of the unique challenges brought about by COVID.
Many businesses in physical environments have had to swiftly implement changes to significantly reduce safety risks for staff and customers, such as contactless payments, mobile ordering and delivery options. But with these changes come a host of other benefits of digitisation, such as faster transactions, and reduced human error at the point-of-sale.
The reliance on technology, however, can also expose organisations and consumers to certain vulnerabilities. In particular, the risks of fraud and cybercrime have dramatically increased since the onset of the pandemic as scammers have taken advantage of digital technologies to target both businesses and individuals.
As a McKinsey report illustrates, new levels of sophistication in the activities of fraudsters have placed more pressure on companies that have been previously slow to go digital, bringing “into sharp relief how vulnerable companies really are”, and damaging the financial health of small and large businesses. In fact, the Bottomline 2020 Business Payments Barometer reveals that only one in 10 small businesses across the UK report recovering more than 50% of losses due to fraud.
But take these stats with a grain of salt. While it is important to be aware of the risks and challenges this new business landscape brings, it’s equally as important to have a lens firmly across your own business, industry and audience, and to identify the changes you can make internally to mitigate risk as well as improve your customer experience. Where can you make some quick wins? Do you have the right skillsets internally to achieve what you need to achieve? What technology is out there that will enable your business goals? There are tech companies like MYPINPAD that are making huge strides in software development, which will transform businesses globally.
A digital world post-COVID
Almost a year in, the line between business success and failure remains fragile. However, an ongoing transition towards greater digitisation will be the difference between survival and the alternative.
There is a wide range of initiatives businesses can implement to weather this storm. If we look at the space MYPINPAD operates within, secure digital consumer authentication is crucial to the ongoing success and security of not only financial products but also identification and verification across a range of different industry verticals. Shifting the authentication of consumers securely onto mobile devices enables businesses to completely reshape their customer experiences. By bringing together a more seamless, frictionless customer experience, accessibility, privacy, security and access to consumer data, businesses are able to drive digital transformation across day-to-day activities.
Against this backdrop, software with stronger security standards continue to play an ever more vital role in supporting society, protecting consumers and businesses from the increase in risks that rapid digitisation brings. Already, merchants can deploy PIN on Mobile technology from companies like MYPINPAD, onto their smart devices to speed up the digitisation process many are now tackling.
Essentially, opening up universal payments and authentication methods that feel familiar, for both online and face-to-face transactions, will be key to opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to redefining how businesses engage with consumers.
Brexit responsible for food supply problems in Northern Ireland, Ireland says
LONDON (Reuters) – Food supply problems in Northern Ireland are due to Brexit because there are now a certain amount of checks on goods going between Britain and Northern Ireland, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.
British ministers have sought to play down the disruption of Brexit in recent days.
“The supermarket shelves were full before Christmas and there are some issues now in terms of supply chains and so that’s clearly a Brexit issue,” Coveney told ITV.
The Northern Irish protocol means there are “a certain amount of checks on goods coming from GB into Northern Ireland and that involves some disruption,” he said.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Tom Hogue)
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