Special Features

The future of the financial services industry is a healthy workplace

Howard Lewis | Microsoft UK
17th January 2020
Howard Lewis, Surface Business Group Lead, Microsoft UK
"Remote and flexible working should no longer be seen as a benefit that organisations offer employees, akin to the pool table or the free meals."

It’s no secret that the financial services industry has a reputation for a workplace culture characterised by long working hours and a lack of flexibility.

A recent PWC study confirms this, arguing that financial services has been slower than other major industries when it comes to prioritising employee experiences within the workplace. The domino effect of this lack of action is that the sector is facing serious questions about its ability to attract and retain talent.

We’re seeing this trend across all British industries, not just financial services. Recently, we asked British employees how they felt about their own workplace cultures. The results were clear: employees are struggling to keep their heads above water when it comes to work. The toxic workplace culture that seems to be a common thread is bleeding into our personal lives, affecting how – and even if – we take care of our physical and mental wellbeing.

Indeed, a staggering 86% of UK employees said they experienced some level of anxiety in their day to day lives over the last 12 months due to their work. For the financial services sector, the figure is even worse: 90% of workers in the industry have reported feeling anxious due to workplace stress and pressure.

Unsurprisingly, this is having a serious effect on how employees in financial services organisations are leading their lives – for example, 27% of respondents said they regularly make sacrifices in their personal lives for work and 19% say that they miss out on their children’s activities.This doesn’t need to be the norm.

The UK’s financial services industry is a crucial part of our economy, accounting for 3.1% of all UK jobs. For this to continue, it’s important that it becomes an attractive place for the best talent to thrive. This is not achievable without a workplace policy that truly reflects the wants and needs of the workforce. What employees want today is simple – flexibility.

Having the freedom to choose flexible working practices

There are several ways in which businesses in the financial services sector can change the tack and offer their employees more choice and freedom.

Flexible working was an initiative that nearly half (41%) of respondents in the sector are being encouraged to pursue by their employer. Yet, despite this, employees don’t seem to be able to make this a reality, with 37% feeling they can’t work from home if they don’t have an ‘official’ reason. This is a symptom of a workplace culture that lacks trust and fails to capitalise on the benefits of remote working. Empowering employees to work remotely is the first step in allowing them to reclaim their work life balance. It’s the only way businesses can create engaged and motivated employees and it has to be prioritised.

The research also surfaced another hindrance to remote working - technology. The research shows that employees don’t have the right technology at their disposal in order for remote working to become a reality. Time and time again, employees blame WiFi issues, a lack of accessories such as keyboards and mice, and trouble accessing files and documents as a factor in their ability to work from home. Additionally, 51% say that to get a promotion they must prioritise work over their personal life.

Remote and flexible working should no longer be seen as a benefit that organisations offer employees, akin to the pool table or the free meals. A combination of mobile hardware and software, for example, can enable collaboration and flexibility. This will allow employees to plan their work around their personal schedules, so that the days of missing appointments or children’s activities can be left in the past. Employees can begin their working day after the school drop-off, leave work earlier to go to a doctor’s appointment or go straight home after a client meeting and beat rush hour.
For technology to truly provide employees with the choice and flexibility they need, it must go hand in hand with organisational policies designed to support healthy choices and to prevent the ‘always on’ culture. It’s important for leaders to step up and reassure employees that it’s ok not to check emails on the weekends, or on holidays, and that they can take some time out of their working day to take care of themselves. Technology can be the enabler and make this a reality.

The financial services industry is a crucial part of the UK’s economy. By ensuring businesses in the sector are equipping staff with the right technology tools that empower mobile and remote working, they are taking the first steps towards building an engaging and productive workforce. Taking this one step further by adopting healthy workplace policies will help address the stigma associated with the sector and attract and retain the best, and more diverse, talent. Prioritising work/life balance is key for the industry to move away from its traditional, closed off perception and succeed in the future world of work.

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