The importance of feeling flush – The psychology of financial wellbeing

28Apr 16

Employee finances are like their health – private and ultimately their own responsibility – but have all kinds of links and relationships with work and the workplace.

One in five employees say that worrying about their finances affects their performance at work. This is according to a survey by Barclays of people working at 100 companies. Another finding is that 70% of employers believe their employees feel the organisation is concerned about their financial wellbeing — compared to 10% of employees.

Add to this that 38% of employees say they would move to a company which made financial wellbeing a priority, and suddenly ‘financial wellbeing’ – something that seemed like jargon – becomes of very real importance.

In a nutshell, staff with strong financial wellbeing are more productive and less likely to leave. Financial worries can be linked to other areas of wellbeing, like someone’s mental health or their career path. We look at ways to help people manage both their finances, and the worries that they have about them — it’s not all about paying them more!

Barclays defines financial wellbeing as ‘Being and feeling financially healthy and secure, today and for the future’. In fact, they found that it tends to be savings, not income, which determine a person’s financial wellbeing. This includes having a ‘savings buffer’ — a pot of money set aside for unforeseen outgoings — and the ability to save money regularly.

So what are employers to do? Many firms already offer benefits that can help their workers’ money go further, like childcare vouchers. There are even some schemes available to make it easier save, such as workplace ISAs.

The starting point for most businesses is to help their staff understand what their options are. Add in some sound, independent advice, and you enable them to make healthy choices — for their bank balances, and their peace of mind. Financial education needs to be made relevant to the different elements of the workforce demographic, around age or career stages – as illustrated by a PWC survey of American workers. This found that Generation Y employees, (aged 22-34 in 2016), appear more concerned about ‘current expenses’, whereas Baby Boomers (aged 56-73) and Generation X (aged 35-55) also frequently cite ‘retiring’ as one of their top financial concerns.

PWC’s report also contained a stark statistic about the impact of financial wellbeing on productivity: 37% of respondents say that they spend three hours, or more, at work each week thinking about or dealing with issues related to their personal finances.

The bottom line seems to be that by making your employees more financially savvy — which is desirable in itself — they get more work done, are more loyal and engaged, and their overall wellbeing improves. None of which should be undervalued.

Also published in HR Zone

Getting the board on board

09Apr 16

How do you get the board to 'buy in' to health and wellbeing? Kamwell's managing director, Kirsten Samuel, shares her five top tips for convincing the top dogs

Health and wellbeing as currency in the corporate world is gaining in value. It’s a new source of competitive advantage for lean businesses running out of ways to squeeze out efficiency savings.

Many companies are also starting to realise and demonstrate the link between a healthy workforce and enhanced engagement, productivity and company culture. But — and it’s a big but — to make a real impact on organisational performance, wellbeing should be integrated into business strategy with buy-in and engagement at senior levels.

That means open dialogue with senior leaders, a strong business case backed up by evidence, and the means to measure ongoing impact. Thereby enabling the set-up of that virtuous circle of investment, results and proof for further investment.

Too often HR is restricted to introducing one-off projects and initiatives. These may lead to some glimmers of benefit, but aren’t necessarily going to deliver on the scale and impact required to energise a workforce and truly embed wellbeing into the culture of an organisation.

To make a solid case to the board, you need to:

  1. Provide upfront evidence of specific needs

Hard data is critical. If your organisation provides occupational health services, employee-assistance programmes or health screenings, then get access to valuable anonymised data on trends and issues. Put time into gathering feedback from staff about their interests and needs in terms of health and wellbeing too. Then you can ensure subsequent initiatives are relevant, targeted and have the greatest chance of being embraced by your employees.

  1. Don’t think in terms of a one-size-fits-all approach

Demonstrate your commitment to getting results by focusing on particular needs and how they can be addressed. That might be by geographical location, culture, type of work, age or gender. Many organisations have a diverse range of staff, so understanding the make-up of your workforce will make a meaningful difference.

  1. Focus on metrics

Again, it’s all about the data, and any health and wellbeing programme needs to have its own metrics (remedial and preventative). These should be identified at the start of the programme, tracked and measured periodically or by intervention. It’s crucial to provide evidence to the board of ROI, in terms of reduction in sickness absence, and increases in engagement, productivity and staff retention.

  1. Think holistically, not just about physical health

The Kamwell model we use with organisations defines physical health in its broadest terms (movement, sleep, nutrition, recovery) and considers mental wellbeing (psychological, emotional and spiritual) to be just as important. The model also measures wellbeing in terms of the security of finances; the enjoyment of careers; the quality of relationships; and the contribution employees can make to the community and environment.

  1. Invest the time to a develop a wellbeing strategy

Join the dots between what you’re already doing, what you want to achieve and industry best practice. Share key highlights regularly with senior leaders so that there’s awareness at the highest level.

Line-manager support and engagement is also a real differentiator in building a successful wellbeing programme that is felt across the whole organisation. Create great role models from your leaders, by involving them in your initiatives and also encouraging them to share their personal stories — we’re all human after all.

Most importantly, ROI from wellbeing programmes doesn’t come from one-off events or initiatives. The best results come from having a well-planned strategy, ongoing employee research, a robust communications plan and a long-term focus on integrated initiatives and culture change.

One example of how a large employer turned an initial project, a Wellbeing Fair, into a global wellbeing programme with major board backing is Reed Business Information (RBI) and its Living Well programme.

Working with Kamwell, RBI carried out extensive research, including voluntary employee-wellbeing surveys, which had response rates of over 60%. They undertook health assessments and screenings to understand and identify key concerns and health risks to their staff — such as obesity, musculoskeletal disorders, mental health problems, cancer and heart conditions.

Through Living Well’s regular wellbeing interventions, campaigns and in-person events — all supported by the board — RBI has since then successfully engaged thousands of employees, all around the world.

Crucial to the success of Living Well was Lawrence Mitchell, RBI’s global marketing director, who also became the company’s global wellbeing sponsor. Having a senior, driven individual to spearhead such a programme is an enormous asset. He captured and maintained the buy-in of the executive team by sharing regular updates with them, and providing them with that all-important hard data.

A management information dashboard was created to measure and track metrics linked to their objectives and to assess ROI. This showed how sickness absence, occupational health referrals and global staff turnover decreased in 2015.

Moreover, the results from RBI’s regular Employee Opinion survey improved by 10%, which contributed to an increase in employees referring personal contacts for vacancies. Last but not least, the number of staff involved in wellbeing events doubled.

The success and tangible results from this multi-national health and wellbeing programme make it an excellent case study for anyone pitching to their own board.

An earlier version of this article first appeared on www.HRZone.com

What is financial wellbeing — and why does it matter?

09Apr 16

A concept that sounds obvious turns out to be subtler, and handier, than you might think

The term ‘financial wellbeing’ can sound like another bit of jargon. “Surely it’s just a way of saying whether someone’s broke or not?” a character from Mad Men might ask.

But that’s not right.

Your employees have their own individual finances. Mortgages, salaries, pensions, investments, savings, and so on. However, it’s not just the state of their finances, but also how your employees feel about them, that determines their financial wellbeing.

Why should employers should be concerned about the financial wellbeing of their employees?

Here’s why: One in five employees say that worrying about their finances affects their performance at work. This is according to a survey by Barclays of people working at 100 companies.

Another finding is that 70% of employers believe their employees feel the organisation is concerned about their financial wellbeing — compared to 10% of employees.

Add to this that 38% of employees say they would move to a company which made financial wellbeing a priority, and suddenly something that seemed like jargon becomes of very real importance.

In a nutshell, staff with strong financial wellbeing are more productive and less likely to leave.

“Once we’ve explained why financial wellbeing is a crucial part of the overall wellbeing picture, companies start to sit up and take notice,” says Kamwell’s CEO, Kirsten Samuel. “They want to understand what it really means, and what they can do about it.

“Financial worries can be linked to other areas of wellbeing, like someone’s mental health or their career path. We look at ways to help people manage both their finances, and the worries that they have about them — it’s not all about paying them more!”

Barclays defines financial wellbeing as ‘Being and feeling financially healthy and secure, today and for the future’.

In fact, they found that it tends to be savings, not income, which determine a person’s financial wellbeing. This includes having a ‘savings buffer’ — a pot of money set aside for unforeseen outgoings — and the ability to save money regularly.

So what are employers to do? Many firms already offer benefits that can help their workers’ money go further, like childcare vouchers. There are even some schemes available to make it easier save, such as workplace ISAs.

“The starting point for most businesses is to help their staff understand what their options are,” explains Ms Samuel. “Add in some sound, independent advice, and you enable them to make healthy choices — for their bank balances, and their peace of mind.”

The company ‘WEALTH at work’ provides financial education and guidance in the workplace, and is part of the Kamwell Partner Network. Its director, Jonathan Watts-Lay, describes its approach to improving employee financial wellbeing:

“The best way to get people engaged with their finances is to make financial education as meaningful and relevant as possible to different segments of the workforce.

“For example, providing relevant financial education around different career stages will lead to improved financial wellbeing. Someone aged 21 may not be as interested in pensions, but might want to think about joining the company share scheme. On the other hand, someone aged 55 might want help with retirement planning.

“It’s also important to provide multiple delivery mechanisms, from seminars and webinars, to animation and interactive games.”
The importance of addressing different parts of a workforce by age is underlined by a PWC survey of American workers.
This found that Generation Y employees, (aged 22-34 in 2016), appear more concerned about ‘current expenses’, whereas Baby Boomers (aged 56-73) and Generation X (aged 35-55) also frequently cite ‘retiring’ as one of their top financial concerns.
PWC’s report also contained a stark statistic about the impact of financial wellbeing on productivity: 37% of respondents say that they spend three hours, or more, at work each week thinking about or dealing with issues related to their personal finances.

The bottom line seems to be that by making your employees more financially savvy — which is desirable in itself — they get more work done, are more loyal and engaged, and their overall wellbeing improves. None of which should be undervalued.

i. Barclays / YouGov survey of 2,000 employees across 100 companies, 2014 https://wealth.barclays.com/global-stock-and-rewards/en_gb/home/research-centre/financial-wellbeing.html
ii. PWC survey of 1,700 adults, 2015 https://www.pwc.com/us/en/private-company-services/publications/assets/pwc-employee-financial-wellness-survey-2015.pdf

On my mind: Digital eye strain

31Jan 16

I’ve always had bad eyesight. For much of my life, I could barely see anything two feet in front of me. I had bottle-top glasses as a kid, and contact lenses as an adult.

But then, in my early 30s, I decided to have laser eye surgery. It was great. I would wake up in the morning and I could see! For a few years I had 20:20 vision.

However, my eyesight is now starting to deteriorate again. I find myself squinting to read things, and the TV often looks a bit blurry. I recently had an eye test, and a second opinion…and then a third…and it looks like I’m close to needing glasses or contacts again.

I’m keen to delay that for as long as possible, so I decided to do some research into possible causes of this change. You only have one pair of eyes, after all, so it makes sense to do whatever you can to look after them.

As soon as I came across a recent study by The Vision Council, about ‘digital eye strain’, I knew it made sense. Synptoms of digital eye strain include redness, irritation or dry eyes, reduced blinking, blurred vision and headaches.

This research found that 30% of adults in the US spend more than half their waking day (half! which in this case means nine or more hours) on a digital device. And that around two-thirds of working-age Americans experience digital eye strain.

The stats I’ve found about Brits are even worse. Apparently we check our smartphones 150 times a day. One hundred and fifty.

A third of us check our phones within five minutes of waking up, and 40% look at them five minutes before going to sleep.

I’ll put my hand up — I’m guilty of this. But doing the job I do, and being an avid reader, means it’s often hard to get away from a screen. Even when I’m on the go I’m often eyes-down on my laptop, tablet, kindle or iPhone.

However, I’m now 100% convinced that this is responsible for my deteriorating eyesight.

I then started looking into it from a more general wellbeing point of view, and wasn’t all that surprised to find evidence of the negative links between screentime and sleep, mental health and productivity at work.

I’d heard about how ‘blue light’ emitted by screens could affect your sleep (I vaguely knew it was to do with melatonin), but I didn’t understand the science behind it. It’s fascinating — and worrying. Did you know that LED bulbs in modern lights are also culprits? Did you know that blue light may be doing long-term, irreversible damage to our retinas?

I hadn’t heard the term ‘text neck’ before, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. The wear and tear of being hunched over your laptop or phone cannot be ignored. The average human head weighs 12lbs. Held at a 15-degree angle this becomes the equivalent of 27lb. At 60 degrees it’s 60lb. About the weight of an 8-year-old, sat on your neck.

I’d not only heard about, but witnessed — and actively try to counteract — work cultures where employees want to be seen to be on e-mail at all hours. These create stress, which can lead to anxiety and depression. I think it’s getting out of hand. So I was interested to read more views about how this ‘e-mail epidemic’ is damaging UK productivity.

And it was no surprise to hear that the ‘multi-tasking myth’ is being thoroughly exploded. Digital technology doesn’t make us better at multi-tasking, therefore more efficient. People who are regularly bombarded with electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.

So now I realise that my reliance on screens could also be impacting my overall wellbeing and productivity, as well as my eyesight.

It’s hard for me to say this, as I’m a total tech geek, but although the tech revolution is great at providing solutions, it also comes with its own problems.

So I’ve spent the last few months researching ways in which I can use technology in a smarter, healthier way. Some of it’s pretty simple — about changing the way or frequency I use existing things in my life — and some of it’s about finding new, alternatives technologies. Which personally I find really exciting (see previous reference to my being a geek)…

Here are my tips:

Listen to audio books. This has been a hard transition for me, but I’m starting to enjoy it. You can get most things on audio book now, and it’s great for the commute. As I tend to do a lot of walking to and from locations to avoid the tube, I’ve also found that I can get a bit of extra listening in then too.

Enable voice dictation. I can now talk to my devices whilst looking away, rather than using their keyboards. (Minimising the amount of typing you do can also prevent RSI.) Likewise, I have also have text-to-speech software, which means if that if I have a particularly long e-mail or article, my device can read it out so I don’t have to look at the screen. It’s actually fairly accurate and it can buy me back a whole hour each day from staring at a screen.

Reassess your workstation set-up. If you use a laptop only, get a separate, larger computer screen to connect to. I can’t tell you what a difference this has made to me. Remember your screen should be one arm’s-length away, directly in front of your face, just below eye level.

Increase the font size. All the text on my phone and other devices is as large as it can be now. It might look a bit granny-ish, but I find it really does help.

Drink more water. It sounds simple, but it keeps your eyes hydrated. You can try eye drops if they start getting dry in the afternoon. It sounds even more obvious, but blinking a lot helps clear fuzziness too.

Remember the 20:20:20 rule about taking breaks from your screen. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.

Limit times in the day you do e-mail. I find this hard as I like to be responsive, but it does make a difference, not only to eyesight but also to productivity. E-mail is one of the worst distractions.

Don’t have your phone by your bed at night. Last year I put mine in the corridor outside (with the alarm on loud) and it was transformative. Now that I’m using audiobooks, it’s back in the bedroom with me, so I need to find a new solution to allow me to do both!

Cucumber. Apparently the ascorbic and caffeic acids in it reduce inflammation and water retention, so if your eyes feel puffy, put a couple of slices on your eyelids. I can listen to an audio book at the same time, so it’s win-win.

Blue-blocking glasses. I’m about to roadtest some of these — apparently their amber colour filters out harmful blue light. I’ll let you know how I get on.

I don’t know if any of this will stop me needing regular glasses again eventually, but in the meantime I’m looking after my eyes better. And my overall wellbeing. And, I’m more efficient.

What started with a bit of squinting has reminded me that you have to be smart about using technology. I’m glad the digital era’s here to stay, but just because I’m a geek doesn’t mean I want the glasses to match.

Would you tell your boss you had a mental health problem? What if you are the boss?

30Jan 16

At Kamwell, we help companies to boost their employees’ wellbeing. Mental health is absolutely key to wellbeing, and there are a number of options you can offer people that will prove beneficial.

But you can’t help your staff deal with, for example, a stress-induced bout of depression, or the recurrence of a long-standing eating disorder, if they don’t feel able to disclose what’s going on.

According to the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, nearly half of people (48%) say they would feel uncomfortable talking to their employer about a mental health problem. Only 40% of respondents say they would be comfortable doing so.

Good mental health doesn’t mean someone is happy all the time, like a robot. It means they’re in good enough shape to deal with the ups and downs of day-to-day life. They’re functioning, getting pleasure out of things, and realise that mental wellbeing is linked to physical health and a number of other factors.

Someone with a diagnosable mental health problem has a medical illness, that should be regarded in just the same way as a physical illness. Except many worry that it’s not.

A recruitment website surveyed 1,100 workers last month, and nearly two-thirds said they wouldn’t give their depression as the reason for calling in sick. A whopping 89% believed that disclosing depression in an interview would hinder their chances of getting the job.

Employers ought to encourage the individuals who work for them to be open about mental health problems in two types of situation: when a current employee develops a mental illness, for whatever reason; and when new employees with chronic conditions, which may or may not flare up again, start work.

In both cases, that member of staff is likely to take less time off work if they’re able to be open about their mental health problem with their line manager. They’re less likely to quit their job, so you’re less likely to have to go through the costs of recruiting a replacement. Staff who feel supported at work are more engaged and motivated.

But how exactly do you persuade people that it’s okay to talk about mental health?

Sometimes offering yoga sessions at lunchtime, or signing up to a mental health charity’s initiative, may not be enough to give employees the confidence to disclose their medical status. A few disjointed programmes don’t add up to an environment where it’s the norm to talk about things like anxiety and depression.

Stigma in the workplace is a serious issue for people with mental health problems. They’re afraid of jeopardising their career progress, appearing ‘weak’ in the eyes of colleagues, and worried that their illness won’t be dealt with in the same way as a physical illness.

That’s why at Kamwell we take a long-term view, and try to change the culture in a workplace, so that the importance of employee wellbeing is embedded at every level.

Tailored HR procedures, open communications between employees and line managers, mentoring systems — all these things can help. It’s the same as in areas of life outside the workplace; the best way to tackle stigma is by talking.

But in business, one of the most effective ways of signalling to your employees that this taboo has no place in your company is for those at the top to speak out about their own mental health problems.

What better way to show that careers don’t necessarily suffer, than for the boss to give a talk about how they manage their own bipolar disorder? If a director is open about how work once made them so stressed they needed professional help to deal with their anxiety, colleagues are more likely to open up about their own concerns.

But don’t just take it from us.

Lord Dennis Stevenson, the former boss of both HBOS and Pearson, says he experiences episodes of severe depression every five or six years. In a programme on BBC Radio 4, he talks about about the need for “intelligent and enlightened employers to say to themselves ‘it is in my interest’…to have an open atmosphere” when it comes to mental health problems.

And Lord Stevenson is very clear on the best way to achieve this open atmosphere: “It comes from the top. There is no alternative.”

Geoff McDonald Advocate and Campaigner for Mental Health and director at The Bridge Partnership, and was previously HR director at Unilever. He demonstrates how speaking out in the corporate world can have a powerful effect:

“While working for Unilever, I, as a senior leader, ‘came out of the closet’ on my own experience of depression and anxiety. This encouraged other senior leaders to do the same.

“We also brought other role models and prominent figures — including Alastair Campbell — into the business to talk about their experiences. These being people whom one would never expect to have suffered, and thus they ‘normalised’ mental health problems. Which one in four of us will experience during the course of our lives.

“After doing some of this role-modelling work, we saw a significant increase in the number of employees who began to talk and reach out for help. Over an 18-month period this increase was eightfold.”

So remember, talking is the key to unlocking the problems caused by mental ill health in your workforce. That’s why Kamwell is supporting the national Time to Talk Day on February 4th 2016.

1 National Attitudes to Mental Illness Survey conducted by TNS and Kings College London in 2014
2 CV-Library, January 2016
3’The Bottom Line’ presented by Evan Davis, BBC Radio 4, July 2014
4 Time to Talk Day is organised by Time to Change, to get as many people as possible across England talking about mental
health