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Employee wellbeing and the ‘talent war’: practical advice for tech businesses

Employee wellbeing

Attracting and retaining staff has become an increasingly acute issue throughout the pandemic, leading to more and more headlines of an intensifying “talent war”. This is particularly true within the technology sector.

There are several converging factors at play here. For one, there remains a significant skills shortage; too few people have the training and experience that employers are looking for, as Lloyds Bank discussed in depth in December 2021.

The digital skills gap, in particular, has widened over the past two years. As Covid-19 altered everyday practices, processes, and experiences, consumers and businesses have become more reliant on technology. As a result, digital skills are a prerequisite within the vast majority of job listings today, and that is not even limited specifically to technology roles.

For context, the number of UK employers struggling to fill skilled roles has more than doubled in the past two years, increasing from 35% in 2019 to 77% in 2021. Tech stands out as one of the most fiercely competitive sectors when it comes to the labour market.

Further to the worsening skills shortage, we are also in the midst of the so-called Great Resignation, a term coined in the US, where around 33 million people quit their jobs between April and December 2021. The trend of an above-average number of employees resigning has spread globally and is certainly one of the most pertinent challenges affecting UK technology businesses at present.

Over two fifths (41%) of UK employers are finding it more difficult to retain staff, according to Aon’s Benefits and Trends Survey 2022, released last month.

Employers, then, must carefully consider how to address this complicated problem. To do so, they need to think about how they will attract and hire new talent, while also focusing on how to keep hold of the talented staff they have already got.

Employee wellbeing getting due recognition

Now, perhaps more than ever before, organisations must have a clear vision for how they will support and nurture employees. They must do so out of their responsibility as an employer but also as a strategic exercise for ensuring they can develop and scale the teams required to flourish, both now and in the future.

It starts with putting employee wellbeing at the heart of any talent acquisition and retention plans. Indeed, employee wellbeing has become an increasingly prominent discussion point within businesses over the past two years in recognition of the stresses and strains that Covid-19 has placed upon people.

A study of UK employees last year found that 79% were experiencing wellbeing problems; stress and anxiety is by far the biggest issue, with 62% reporting this. Some of these issues will be related to Covid-19, but more generally, the disruptive nature of the pandemic has encouraged greater engagement from employers around the subject of wellbeing, bringing it into sharper focus.

According to an online poll of employers from January 2022, 91% of organisations intend to introduce new wellbeing benefits this year. Meanwhile, during its annual conference in November, the CIPD, the body for HR and professional development, urged employers to build a more responsible and people-centric world of work, even as we hope to transition out of the worst of the pandemic.

As stated, prioritising the wellbeing of its employees is a key responsibility for any organisation. But it is also vital when looking to hire and retain staff. It is paramount that employers actively seek ways of preventing burnout and motivating staff, while generally looking after their physical and mental wellbeing – failure to do so, particularly in the current climate, risks harming both the individuals and the business.

More than a gimmick

With the vast majority of employers alert to the fact that employee wellbeing is now an essential element of their growth plans, the focus naturally shifts on how to excel in this area.

Many tech businesses across the UK will be wondering what affirmative action can be taken to improve employee wellbeing. There are, after all, countless examples of what different employers are doing; already this year, we have seen Monzo introduce a three-month paid sabbatical for its employees, Romulus beginning to offer staff free e-bike travel, and 30 British organisations begin a trial for the four-day working week.

So, what wellbeing-centric policies, structures and cultural changes could – or should – tech companies make? In truth, there would be too many to name in a single article; however, there are some fundamentals in the way this task is approached to ensure meaningful change is made.

First and foremost, tech companies – indeed, all businesses – have to appreciate that “wellbeing” means different things to different people. As such, no single policy or initiative will markedly improve the wellbeing of all staff, so a more holistic approach is required.

Further, employee wellbeing initiatives must carry substance. They cannot be ‘light touch’ or gimmicky, nor be considered a PR exercise. They must seek to make a significant impact on employees’ (or some employees’) day-to-day lives or look to alleviate major stresses and concerns that they may carry. Fruit baskets and team socials are nice to have but will rarely make a noticeable difference to a person’s overall happiness or wellbeing.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance

Central to many professionals’ wellbeing is their work-life balance. And while some have thought that the rise of remote working since the onset of the pandemic would have, in many instances, encouraged a healthier balance, this has not always been the case.

Remote working would ostensibly be thought to have given people more time to dedicate to out-of-work activities now they no longer have to commute or sit in an office from 9-5 every weekday. Yet it has also made the distinction between work and life more complex. In fact, a recent study by Monster found that 69% of employees working from home are experiencing symptoms of burnout.

Moving forwards, tech businesses will need to establish a clear policy for how they will manage remote, hybrid or office working. This will need to be clearly communicated to staff, providing them with visibility over what is expected from them. Whichever option it chooses with regards to its expectations of employees, allowing them to maintain a healthy work-life balance is essential.

Do employees have the time and flexibility within their roles to pursue their personal interests? Is their workload such that they can have ample time to do ‘extra-curricular’ hobbies and activities? Are staff incentivised to take breaks from work and carve out periods of the day to step away from their laptop?

Tech businesses’ leadership teams ought to consider these questions carefully and, ideally, canvas opinion directly from their employees. Indeed, open conversations with staff to see if they feel their work-life balance is appropriate are often a good place to start. Anonymous employee wellbeing surveys can also allow individuals to raise concerns that they might not feel comfortable discussing with a manager.

If concerns do emerge, practical action can then be taken. For example, businesses can review people’s hours and workloads, or more actively encourage people to switch off from work by, say, turning off notifications out-of-hours on their phones or laptops.

Financial empowerment

“Employees need greater transparency and control over their finances. For many, this is more important than any other benefit a company can offer. Yet it shocked me, for instance, to see a report from PwC that over half of employees felt financial challenges were the leading cause of stress within the workplace; this can, in turn, drive down productivity and workforce performance.”

Taken from a recent interview with UKTN, these are the words of Chieu Cao, the CEO and founder of Mintago, and previously the CMO of Perkbox – both companies focused on helping employers improve the wellbeing of their staff.

As stated above, employee wellbeing initiatives must have substance and seek to make a meaningful impact on an organisation’s workforce. Policies or tools focused on financial empowerment are prime examples of this.

After all, financial concerns are a primary concern for many employees. The PwC study referenced above revealed that 63% of employees say that their financial stress has increased since the start of the pandemic. Mintago’s own research found that 23% of UK workers currently feel that financial worries negatively impact their work; the figure rises to 36% among those aged 18-34.

Providing better financial support can go a long way to improve an employee’s overall wellbeing. As such, tech companies should consider how they can do more in this area – perhaps through education or advice services.

Tangible action

A study by wealth management company, Schroders Personal Wealth (SPW) mirrored those noted above; it found that 48% of UK adults feel regularly or occasionally stressed due to their financial situation, with 27% of workers admitting that money worries impact their performance at work. These findings prompted SPW to introduce an initiative to provide financial education and support for the employees of companies throughout the country.

With wages likely being an employee’s largest source of income, and pensions potentially their most significant savings pot, the workplace forms a critical part of people’s financial wellbeing. SPW has chosen to play an important role in addressing the UK’s financial advice gap while helping business owners to support their employees’ financial needs by enhancing their existing wellbeing strategy. The aim is to reduce presenteeism within businesses by implementing tangible and practical support.

SPW achieve this by working with employers to design a bespoke engagement plan with the aim of helping to embed financial wellbeing into the company culture. Through a combination of financial advice, education, and guidance available in the workplace, SPW aspire to help normalise the conversation around money.

Through one-to-one advice consultations, group sessions and interactive webinars, and education through remote self-serve learning, SPW hasproven that implementing a financial wellbeing strategy into an organisation can have a tangible impact on workplace satisfaction.

Improving soft skills

Processes, policies, and structures will go a long way to supporting employees and, in turn, improving their wellbeing. It ought to help create an environment wherein people can raise and address concerns and be given the wider guidance and resources to make improvements within their professional and, perhaps, personal lives. Some of the examples above serve to highlight what that might look like.

However, for employee wellbeing to be effectively addressed, there must also be a keen focus on the soft skills of managers and leaders within any technology businesses. This will be essential if a company is to have a culture that supports and nurtures staff. In particular, empathy is a critical leadership skill in relation to employee wellbeing.

A recent study of 889 employees by Catalyst uncovered some of the significant constructive effects of empathy. For example, when people reported their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to report they were able to be innovative – 61% of employees compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders; 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership; and 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy.

Whether by providing training and education to senior personnel, or appointing managers based on their empathy and emotional intelligence, tech businesses will benefit from prioritising these skills. Further, direct engagement with staff – again, either through open conversations or regular questionnaires – is important, allowing businesses to establish the happiness, wellbeing and overall state of mind of individual employees. Problems can be addressed promptly as they appear, ensuring a better chance of positive outcomes for employee and employer alike.

Ultimately, looking after the wellbeing of staff requires a comprehensive, far-reaching strategy. From practices and policies, to people and culture, technology companies must focus on the details of what they do and how they do it if they are to support staff and ensure a positive work-life balance.

In the months and years to come, this is likely to become an ever more pertinent factor in determining a business’ success. Those tech firms that are best able to attract, retain and galvanise talent in the highly competitive labour market will give themselves the best possible chance to scale and thrive.

Lloyds Bank’s relationship managers are experienced in the tech sector and are keen to support further growth of this vibrant industry. Please get in touch today to discuss how we might help your business.

Darren Cable, area director technology, media and creative at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking

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For more information about how Lloyds Bank supports UK tech businesses, click here.

This article is part of a paid partnership with Lloyds Bank.