Using neuroscience to banish presenteeism from the financial sector

By Nick Earley, head of psychology, Helix Resilience

2 June 2020

Presenteeism is a deep-rooted issue in financial organisations, with a drastically negative impact on personal wellbeing and billions of pounds worth of impact on the UK economy. Employees who are physically present but are unable to work at full capacity because of poor mental health are shadows of themselves. And often the issue stems from depression, stress, incessant worry or insomnia – all conditions which employers can prevent occurring if the right measures are taken.  

It may be seen as a buzzword but Deloitte estimates presenteeism costs the UK up to £29bn per year, outweighing the £8.6bn turnover costs of poor mental health or the £6.8bn cost in increased absence. In March, the CIPD, the human resources professionals’ association published a report that found 89 percent of respondents recognised presenteeism in their organisation.

Financial institutions are of course infamous for a results-driven culture which can be a spur to great success as well as a source of psychological pressure and poor mental wellbeing. This is why organisations like the City Mental Health Alliance exist.

Unfortunately, presenteeism shows few signs of abating – in most cases because organisations have failed to realise new science-based tools and techniques are available to prevent it. In a very recent study of 500 city employees working from home during the current lockdown, Deloitte found 44 per cent said wellbeing tools would help them, but only 35 percent actually use such tools. The CIPD found only 32 percent of HR professionals with presenteeism in their organisation had done anything to reduce it.

One of the problems is acceptance of the problem at the top of organisations and another is the poor nature of many conventional tools on offer, which are unengaging and only offer help when it is too late. The conventional, reactive model has proved itself inadequate and must be replaced with a proactive paradigm.

Where there is an understanding of mental health at senior level, we see greater action and the provision of wellbeing programmes for the workforce. If the wellbeing tools are designed with great care and based on neuroscience and the latest evidence-based techniques, that in turn stimulates uptake.

A unique neuroscience-based platform that offers workforces bespoke content, tools and evidence-backed techniques can head off stress, sleeplessness and the causes of presenteeism before they develop. Employees can use almost any device to access advice on staying mentally fit, using nutrition, exercise, stress and anxiety-relieving techniques, cognitive behavioural therapy, yoga, mindfulness and more. Online, company-wide communities enable employees to share concerns which may range from childcare and maternity to chronic pain.

Employees using these programmes have the opportunity to benchmark using neuroscience-based psychometric tests and then progress towards resilience goals they set themselves. Employers can then view this anonymised engagement data and better understand their workforces needs and enables them to see the value of what they are providing.

Results and return on investment are of course important and this must be viewed with consideration to the business cost of struggling employees. Deloitte estimates the annual cost per employee of poor mental health in the financial sector to be as much as £3,300 per annum. There’s also the cost of employees suffering from presenteeism which is impossible to calculate but is known to have a significant impact of the levels of vitality and innovation within a company.

Deloitte also analysed the ROI on different types of employee mental health programmes. It found proactive, preventive programmes offer an average ROI of 5:1, compared with the mere 3:1 of reactive models that offer interventions when employees are already suffering. Programmes with early stage activities and bespoke web portals produce a return of 6:1.

The evidence of what works is growing. Financial institutions need to recognise there has been a major shift in workplace wellbeing founded on proactive intervention to keep employees mentally fit and resilient. Banks, insurers, accountancy practices and law firms may hand out gym memberships as perks to improve employee fitness, but mental wellbeing and resilience programmes are even more essential. They keep entire organisations fit and free of presenteeism, using neuroscience and evidence-based techniques so a workforce is more fulfilled, more focused and more productive.

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