Sustainable banking: Sense of purpose for psychological wellbeing is key

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Research finds purpose is critical for engagement in the banking sector

There’s no getting away from the fact that public perception of the social worth of banks has suffered greatly since 2008. But it has become far too easy to overlook the strides that have already been made towards cultural reform within the financial sector.

So what strides have been made? In 2012, the Financial Services Act gave the financial industry a new regulatory framework to work from. The subsequent Vickers Report outlined the need for increased competition in banking and, more recently, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards has called for greater corporate governance, transparency and social responsibility as part of a renewed, values-led industry.

Each of these actions has enabled a greater understanding of how banks operate at a structural level, and the type of behavioural change needed to ensure long-term prosperity ahead of short-term profiteering. Yet the task remains to bring behavioural change to life inside banks and make organisational values and societal needs relevant to bank workers at every tier. This starts by putting their psychological wellbeing first.

As detailed in the latest Bank On Your People report, Wellbeing & Productivity in the Financial Sector, a clearly defined sense of purpose is absolutely vital for bank workers’ psychological wellbeing and performance. The report draws responses from more than 1,300 bank workers across three major banks based in the City.

Looking at the research, we know that up to 40% of employee engagement in these organisations can be explained by a clear sense of purpose. This has a positive knock-on effect for psychological wellbeing, resilience and individual ability to deal with change and cope with pressure, both inside and outside of work.

The question then becomes how do banks develop a strong individual sense of purpose among their workforces? The first step is to consider the ‘whole person’, an approach that is quickly becoming standard across the industry.

Employers who have a handle on their staff’s physical, psychological and social health are able to take a much more holistic and preventative approach to managing the causes of sickness absence, presenteeism, and low retention. This is important from an economic standpoint when you consider sickness absence alone is estimated to cost UK businesses £29 billion every year.

In terms of promoting better social links with the community, there are a number of notable examples. TSB, for instance, has gone down the John Lewis Partnership road by giving share capital to all employees in an effort to shift focus from product sales to customer experience.

Barclays is another great example of corporate social responsibility done right. You may have seen its ongoing advertising campaigns focusing on different aspects of citizenship, particularly their ‘Code Playground’ project. This clever vehicle encourages children to start coding from a young age, making them more technologically savvy and more prepared for the demands of the rapidly changing world of ICT – it works for everyone.

The point is that banks need a clear and relatable ethos that line managers, employees and customers can buy into. If banks are looking to foster stronger relationships with the wider community then their values need to be laid out for all to see. The future of banking depends on sustainable performance, enabling businesses to thrive, and developing a workforce that knows exactly what they are working towards.

Cary Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School, and co-founder of employee wellbeing expert Robertson Cooper. He was ranked first in the HR Most Influential UK Thinkers list 2014

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