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How to Reduce Stress and Absenteeism in the Financial Services Sector

4 September 2019 11 min read

stress in finance

Very few jobs are more stressful than a job in the financial sector.

A recent study aimed to rank 12 UK industries from least to most stressful. For each industry, the study came up with a “stress score”. This stress score is based on public data on the number of self-reported stress cases, the average full time-hours for a worker in the sector, the number of days lost to stress, and the likelihood of future automation.

With a stress score of 80.8%, the study shows that the financial sector is the second most stressful industry in the UK. Only social workers experience more on-the-job stress than financial workers. And even then, the difference is marginal.

Long hours and high-stress levels are common in the financial sector. Workers are under immense levels of pressure, from both the demands of the job and the knowledge that automation might soon put them out of work. As a result, far too many days are lost to stress every year.

To anyone who works in the financial sector, none of this will be news. The consensus might be that stress simply comes with the territory.

But stress destroys people. Stress destroys businesses. And this does not have to be the case.

Stress in the Workplace – The Scale of the Problem

The CIPD recently released their annual Health and Wellbeing at Work report. One of their key findings was that, over the last year, stress-related absence has increased to nearly 40% of UK organisations. On top of this, reports of common mental health conditions have increased by nearly 60% of organisations.

According to the report, the top five most common causes of stress in the workplace are:

  • Workloads and volumes of work
  • Management styles
  • Working relationships
  • Non-work factors relating to families and relationships
  • Organisational change and restructuring (for example, the fear of automation)

24% of survey respondents also claimed that poor financial wellbeing is a significant cause of employee stress. Workers in the financial sector won’t be immune to this. Even if you spend your days helping clients with their finances, it won’t necessarily mean that you’ll have your own affairs in order.

All of this stress comes at a significant cost, both to your people and your business.

Don’t Let Stress Consume Your Financial Business

Stress can cause headaches, heartburn, insomnia, depression, and other serious conditions. In the short-term, this will make your team unhealthy, unhappy, and unproductive. It’s no wonder that so many days are lost to stress each year.

And all of those days lost to stress are going to add up. It’s hard to put an exact figure on just how much stress causes UK businesses each year. But one report places the figure as high as £29bn a year.

That’s only accounting for days lost to stress, too. When you consider the effect that stress will have on employee productivity, the figure’s likely much, much higher.

Stress is a normal human reaction. The financial sector is defined by risk and high-stakes decisions. Of course, workers are going to feel stressed. But when the stress gets too much – when it starts to affect workers’ health and, by extension, the business – then you have a problem.

You need to find a way to manage stress in your business. Otherwise, productivity and morale will be low, staff-turnover will be high, and your business will struggle to grow.

How to Manage Stress in the Financial Sector

You should start by assessing the stress levels in your organisation. Talk to your employees. Ask them about their workloads, their worries, their hopes, their dreams. Make it clear that your friendly and informal chat is strictly confidential. But at the same time, take notes.

If you talk to every employee, you might start to hear the same issues come up again and again. At this point, you’ll have a good idea of the biggest causes of stress in your organisation. And once you know what’s making your employees stressed, you can start thinking about the steps you could take to make things better.

Let’s take a look at how you might respond to each of the top five most common causes of stress in the workplace that the CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work survey identified.

1. Workloads and Volumes of Work

How is the workload divided in your organisation? Who does what? What’s your process for assigning tasks and projects?

As you talk to your employees, it might become clear that the workload is unevenly distributed. You may have a problem with staffing levels. Could a few extra hires help ease the workload for everyone? Or perhaps your staff rota isn’t up to scratch. Perhaps it’s leaving you understaffed during your busiest periods.

We have a couple of resources that could help you here. Read our guide to getting your staffing levels right here. And read our guide to creating an employee rota that works for everyone here.

But beyond this, if your employees feel overworked, it might indicate that there’s a problem with your company culture. Is there something that’s making them believe that you expect them to work constantly? Do they feel actively discouraged from taking a break?

This leads us to our next point.

2. Management Styles and Working Relationships

When talking about management styles as a source of stress in the workplace, the CIPD report has this to say:

“Leaders and managers are important role models in fostering healthy behaviours at work. These findings underline how harmful the impact can be if managers aren’t equipped with the competence and confidence to go about their people management role in the right way.”

Your management style will influence almost every aspect of your team’s working lives. Intentionally or not, when you make it clear to your employees that you expect 110% from them, you might be sending the message that breaks are frowned upon. Everyone needs a break now and then. The alternative is overwork, stress, and burnout.

Similarly, if you foster a community that’s entirely driven by profit and results, don’t be surprised when the air turns toxic. This sort of attitude could turn your employees against each other. Businesses work best when everyone works together towards a shared goal. If this goal is nothing more than “profit”, then you may create an unhealthy culture of ruthless competition. This is bad for stress levels and very bad for productivity.

“Culture” is the keyword here. This is all about organisational culture. Your organisational culture needs to focus on mutual support, shared goals, open feedback and honest conversations. And your management style plays a huge role in shaping your organisational culture.

Read our full guide to creating a healthy and productive organisational culture here.

3. Non-Work Factors –Family and Relationships

You can’t control what happens to your employees outside of the workplace. But you can give your employees all the support they need, and introduce policies to ensure that nobody needs to suffer in silence.

When it comes to family, it’s easy to imagine the sort of support you can offer: Paternity leave, maternity leave, adoption leave, and shared parental leave. You could even offer childcare vouchers as an employee benefit. And for those pressing needs that aren’t related to childcare, you could allow employees to take unpaid leave whenever necessary.

The idea is to not let work get in the way of the things that make life really matter. You might worry about the hours you could lose if you give employees this sort of support. But a stressed or distracted employee won’t be the most productive of employees. It’ll be better for everyone in the long-term if you let them address whatever’s at the forefront of their minds.

4. Non-Work Factors – Finances

As we said above, employees in the financial sector won’t necessarily be immune from financial pressures. And if these financial pressures get too pressing, they could get stressed – which will affect performance, productivity, and may even lead to missed work.

Some organisations have started offering their employees optional and confidential financial support. For example, a third-party financial advisor could visit the workplace once a month. Any employee can pop in at a time that suits them to get practical advice on putting their finances in order.

If you work in the financial sector, you won’t struggle to find someone who knows a thing or two about finances. This is where a buddy system could come into place. Every worker could be assigned a buddy – someone who’s there to offer friendly support, advice, and mentoring. This could be financial support, or it could be emotional support – whatever’s needed! Read our guide to setting up a buddy system in your business here.

But once again, your management style could make a huge difference here, too. Remember those friendly and informal chats you used to gauge the stress levels in your business? Make them routine. Introduce an open-door policy in your business. Make it clear that any employee can discuss anything at all with you at a moment’s notice. Offer no judgment, plenty of practical advice, and total confidentiality.

This openness is yet another aspect of healthy company culture. Which brings us to…

5. Organisational Change and Restructuring

You may not be able to protect your employees from every change that’s set to hit the financial sector in the coming years. So the best thing you can offer is total transparency.

When it comes to organisational change and restructuring, it’s not necessarily the change itself that causes stress. It’s the uncertainty. Employees hate the idea that one day they could show up to work to find that everything’s changed – or worse, that they don’t have a job anymore. This must cause millions of sleepless nights each year.

So keep employees in a loop. Don’t hide anything, ever. Let every member of the team know what’s going on behind the scenes. If a policy or development could eventually affect their life, then they have a right to know.

Ray Dalio, one of the most influential financiers in the world, takes a radical approach to transparency. He goes as far as to film every executive meeting before archiving the recording in a “transparency library”. Every employee then gets a front-row seat to the conversations that could shape their future.

Are you willing to go this far? If not, why not? How could you possibly benefit from keeping your employees in the dark?

Don’t Make Life Difficult For Your Team. Invest in some good HR tech.

If you take these steps to address the most common causes of stress in your business, you will likely see a corresponding drop in absenteeism.

But there’s a further step you can take to reduce absenteeism in your business: Invest in HR technology for your financial business.

Want to see how HR tech will help reduce stress and absenteeism in your business? Then consider our work with BNP Paribas.

Case Study

BNP Paribas is one of the 10 largest financial institutions in the world. They understand more than most how stressful life in the financial sector can be. They know how important it is that employees take care of their wellbeing. Regular breaks are a vital part of this. BNP Paribas approached us because they wanted to make it as easy as possible for employees to book the time off they need to rest and recuperate.

You can read this case study in full here. But in short, through a combination of entitlement calculation, simplified staff holiday booking and automated reporting, regular breaks are now the expected standard for all BNP Paribas employees. And this policy seems to be working very well for them. You don’t get to be one of the most successful financial institutions in the world through mistreating your employees, after all.

Discover Edays

Our absence management software will streamline many everyday HR processes, making life considerably easier for everyone.

How we’ve helped BNP Paribas is just one way our system can help reduce absenteeism in your organisation. Head here to learn about five major business benefits our absence management system will deliver.


Edays is globally compliant, allows you to easily track absences and book holidays. There are many more benefits Edays has to offer, book a demo to see for yourself!

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September 4, 2019