Even before the pandemic, workplace culture was slowly but surely evolving to become more open and embracing of topics such as mental health, diversity and inclusion, and the broader purpose of organisations in society. But the past year and a half in particular has (rightly) thrust these matters to the top of business agendas – especially for those of us in financial services.
Of course, they’re all of the utmost importance. But my role as a trustee for a children’s mental health charity and seeing the pandemic’s impact first-hand has really driven home just how vital it is to champion wellbeing. And it seems I’m not alone, with 87% of financial services leaders now placing mental health at the top of their priority list, according to a recent survey by Fujitsu.
But while this is clearly a huge stride in the right direction, many baby steps are first required to turn this good intention into decisive action and lasting, meaningful change. This was the basis of a recent webinar, where I was joined by financial leaders and wellbeing expert Sadie Restorick to discuss how we can empower employees and prioritise mental health in a hybrid world of work.
Its also the basis of a recent report launched by SFE’s Young Professionals network in partnership with mental health charities SAMH and See Me, which will form the bedrock of a wider sectoral action plan to create mentally healthy workplaces in financial services across Scotland.
If firms can achieve this, it can be the key to unlocking more engaging, fulfilling work for future generations – while creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable to ask for help.
Cultural changes start from the top
One of the first steps to prioritising wellbeing is understanding that our world has changed. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but when I started out in my career, you left your problems at the door when you entered the workplace and picked them back up when you left. Today, those barriers no longer exist – our home and work lives are fully intertwined, and this requires a completely different approach.
For younger generations in particular, they expect to be able to work for organisations that are open to conversations around mental health.
But beyond simply listening and understanding that people’s mental health struggles can be stimulated by a broad range of internal and external factors, it’s vital that we take practical action and provide the necessary support, whenever, wherever. This was one of the key takeaways from our Young Professionals report, which highlighted culture as a key action area for the industry to focus on, along with communication, capability and covid-19.
A company’s culture must reflect society, to foster a diverse, purpose-driven environment, where everyone is able to access support and thrive in their careers. The little things can help too, be it access to online learning and wellbeing tools, or physical spaces where employees can exercise or simply relax.
But for me, the single-biggest impact on culture is leadership. Leaders have a much bigger role than driving results – we’re responsible for taking care of people, monitoring our own behaviour and making sure we’re aligned with the values and purpose of the organisation. Only then will these values be legitimised and accepted by the wider workforce. As I mentioned above, this also has to be backed up with the mechanisms and processes that physically embody these values.
When it comes to addressing culture, however, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every business is different, and this becomes even more complex when we consider parent companies or offices that span many countries and continents. In these cases, I can’t profess to provide all the answers, but I do believe trying to keep things as local as possible can help – as you’re ultimately in the best position to listen to, understand, and act on employees’ needs.
The power of partnerships in driving society forward
Perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned throughout the pandemic is that no one can go it alone. Be it your colleagues, customers, or your company as a whole, we all need allies – whether that’s someone you can reach out and talk to, third sector organisations, or a strategic partner that can help you to realise the lasting, meaningful change I speak of.
SFE’s five-year strategy is a prime example of this, with a range of proposals designed to drive collaboration across financial services with both the Scottish and UK governments. In doing so, our hope is this will impact society for the better and reflect the role financial services will play in leading the journey to net zero, supporting economic recovery, responding to evolving customer needs and developing skills and inclusion.
But to truly realise this, we also need to support the next generation of people entering financial services, which is the basis behind SFE’s Young Professionals. By overseeing the development of new talent, pushing the sector’s boundaries and promoting its opportunities and accessibility to all, this can be the key to unlocking more engaging, fulfilling work for future generations – while driving the sector and society forward.
Last but by no means least, it always pays to partner with likeminded organisations. Fujitsu has been a powerful ally to SFE, with its fresh approach to innovation and transformation combined with its technology expertise. This has really enabled us to move the needle and prioritise our people’s wellbeing at every stage of our journey to supporting smarter work and better living across financial services.
Ultimately, financial services – like our world – has been subject to a lot of change. And while it’s imperative we embrace digital and strive to meet consumers’ ever-evolving demands, this should never be at the expense of employee wellbeing.
People are and always will be your most important asset, so the onus is on us as leaders to not only listen to, but act on their needs. To create a world of work, where every single person is truly engaged, fulfilled and able to access support, should they need it.
To learn more about prioritising wellbeing in your workplace, explore Fujitsu’s financial services solutions.
Prior to joining SFE in 2020, Sandy led the development of the Scottish Government’s Young Person’s Guarantee following an 18-month contract at Tesco Bank as the Chief Transformation Officer.
Sandy was responsible for the Global People, Organisation and Culture Integration following the successful merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management. Before the merger Sandy was the Chief People Officer and Lead Executive for China and Hong Kong for Standard Life for eight years. During this time, he led the Standard Life HR team to be recognised as one of the top performing functions in the UK and also led the turn-around of Standard Life’s Chinese Joint Venture. Sandy was appointed Senior Advisor to the Standard Life Asia Board in July 2020, having been Chair of the Hong Kong-based Board since 2014. Before joining Standard Life, Sandy held similar Transformation and Group HR Director positions within Aegon, Scottish Power and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Sandy holds several non-executive positions including Chair of Career Ready, Non-Executive Director of Place 2 Be and Chair of the Centre for Moving Images. Sandy was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in August 2018 for services to business and social inclusion.