Paul Barrett, Bank Workers Charity: How the Banking Sector is Adapting to Support Wellbeing

Goldman Sachs’ Chief Executive Officer David Solomon hit the headlines last week when he expressed his eagerness for workers to return to the office. He rejected remote working as a “new normal” and instead labelled it an “aberration”.

But, this thinking doesn’t reflect the views of many others in the banking sector. 

As part of the preparation for the Make A Difference “Wellbeing in the hybrid world of work” webinar which we are running on 24 March, I caught up with Paul Barrett. Paul is Head of Wellbeing with the Bank Worker’s Charity. In this role he is responsible for ensuring the Charity is at the forefront of thinking around workplace wellbeing. He also works closely with UK banks to support their wellbeing agendas.

Paul shared his thoughts around how banks have evolved their approach to wellbeing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

How are you finding banks are adapting in terms of workspace?

At an infrastructure level, large corporations seem to be moving beyond the hypothetical. Nobody really knows where we could be in two or three years but there does seem to be a drive to downsize expectations around workspace. In part this reflects an understanding that this may not be the last pandemic.

Many people have led complex lives during the pandemic for a whole range of reasons. But people have also seen the potential for working from home and many want to continue with this – at least in part.

Employers are now looking at what functions buildings can help us to carry out. They are now more about collaborative space. Primacy is being given to break out spaces and collaboration spaces. This will probably be the raison d’etre for work space moving forwards.

I do wonder if very large buildings will have a future. Just getting people in and out of the building in a socially distanced way is prohibitive.

Some banks are looking to have local hubs. If they have a network of branches for instance, some now have empty premises which can be used if they want to move to that model of working.

What trends have you noticed in wellbeing?

I’ve been impressed from day one of the pandemic how banks have pivoted to meet the needs of home-based workers. Many have developed specific wellbeing platforms and programmes. Those tasked with the wellbeing agenda tend to be people who really believe in workplace wellbeing across its different pillars. As a result these passionate individuals get some very impressive things done and they’ve managed to engage colleagues with wellbeing like never before.

As a result, wellbeing has become everybody’s interest and responsibility, including business leaders – many of whom are leading by example. I think we are really seeing businesses align behind the wellbeing agenda, and this is being driven from the top of the business, not just by HR. Suddenly it’s a top priority because when you can’t see people, you need to make sure that they are well.

You might think every bank is going to say they are doing wellbeing well, but people really are feeling looked after. Unions I’ve spoken with have agreed that this is also what their people are saying.

Some employers have struggled to keep colleagues engaged with wellbeing initiatives but many banks have established networks of wellbeing champions. And through these champions they have a good window into what employees are looking for and a clear understanding of what will engage them.

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​Our goal as a charity is to build the wellbeing of the banking community, work closely with the banks and shine a light on emerging wellbeing needs. For example, 4 years ago we highlighted the growing importance of financial wellbeing and it’s been very gratifying to see most banks now putting initiatives in place to address that need.

At the Bank Workers Charity, we also have resources available to help bank employees that are in difficulty. For instance, we’ve given lots of support to carers and provided grants to employees struggling financially as a result of the pandemic.

Management matters in a hybrid world of work

Some businesses have been much better than others in understanding that they need to manage people differently when they are working from home. It’s more time consuming as more has to be put into the people side.

Previously managers might not have had time to spend on their people responsibilities as they were crushed by deliverables. In a hybrid world of work though, managers will have to make time for this. We also need to step back and understand how hybrid working will impact every aspect of working practices and the way we manage people, from recruitment and induction right through to exit interviews. But I find it reassuring that these are exactly the things that employers are planning for right now, recognising that things are not going to return to precisely how they were pre-Covid. And at BWC we’re very encouraged by this, as it’s symptomatic of the extent to which employee wellbeing has risen up the business agenda like never before.

You can read more about the Bank Worker’s Charity and access their most recent whitepapers here

You might also be interested in these reports on preparing for the future of work and making flexible working work which the Bank Worker’s Charity produced in collaboration with Robertson Cooper:

About the author

Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times



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