Recent news of the 21-year-old Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt’s death is both tragic and shocking. Although we can’t speculate that his death was definitely due to overwork, what this incident highlights is that people are working and pushing themselves more than ever before. However, employee health and wellbeing problems caused by stress and exhaustion are not confined to the financial sector alone.
We’re all working in harder times, in which longer hours and the pressure to perform are becoming more intense. At the same time, the internet and mobile technology means that what was previously a clear distinction between home and working life is becoming blurred, and we’re finding it harder to switch off and balance our priorities as a result. Combined with fierce and ruthless competition for good jobs, this means that we’re forced to deal with physical and psychological demands greater than ever before.
Therefore developing greater employee resilience must be a key strategic priority for business. Cultivating an engaged, healthy and ultimately more productive workforce is founded on creating a culture of sustainability for the long-term. A workplace that encourages employees to work excessively long hours can quickly result in its staff suffering from burnout. This is both unsustainable and counter-productive, merely serving to drive more and more people closer to seriously damaging their long term health and wellbeing.
To help drive this change, we need to create a more transparent dialogue around wellbeing at work, particularly in areas relating to mental health, where problems are harder to spot and easier to conceal.
We’ve already seen symbolic moves from leading figures such as John Binns, who used a period of stress-related leave from his position as Senior Partner at Deloitteto develop a mental health champions network, where employees can speak to partners at the firm who are trained in mental health issues.
Larger financial institutions such as Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are also driving a responsible approach to people management through their engagement withBusiness in the Community’s Workwell programme, which works with business leaders to help implement progressive business practices and optimise the contribution of employees, enabling them to flourish.
In fact, the investment community is now increasingly beginning to view public reporting on employee engagement and wellbeing as a crucial investment strategy in itself. By demonstrating that workforces are managed in a responsible way, companies recognise that through offering proper support to their people, productivity and performance will grow in the long term. This makes sense not just because it benefits people but because it benefits the bottom line too; a win-win situation for employer and employee.
Louise Aston is Director of Business in the Community’s Workwell programme.