How Cheshire advice firm tackles stress in the workplace

It is incredibly easy to allow your work to encroach on your personal life. The pressure to succeed and the stress we exert on ourselves means people can end up committing more and more time to their careers. Most people want to flourish professionally, but at what cost?

According to charity Business in the Community and community interest company Mental Health First Aid England, financial services jobs are 44% more likely to cause a stress-related illness than jobs in other sectors. Presenteeism – people coming to work when they are ill – has more than tripled since 2010.

Life should be enjoyed. It is something we are passionate about ensuring for our clients, so why not also for our team and ourselves?

As head of culture at Equilibrium, it is my job to make sure the team is looked after and the culture is one people can thrive in. Over the years, we have introduced a lot of things to provide this, furthering our teams’ careers and removing the dreaded ‘Sunday night fear’.

We offer a standard 33 days of holiday (excluding bank holidays), going up to 38 with length of service. We also encourage employees to take time off as and when they need it. If someone is working on a particularly complex project, or having to juggle a few more deadlines than usual, we do not want them dragging themselves into work if they are not up to it.

Encouraging people to take time and recharge their batteries helps make the days people are in work more productive. Knowing it is OK to take time off enables people to feel in control and take time out whenever necessary.

As well as benefits such as free breakfasts, travel-to-work-schemes and relaxation areas in the office (including a quiet room, pool table and dartboard), we have a spirit team. This is a group of volunteers who arrange activities throughout the year.

Activities range from pub quizzes to various internal competitions to get a fun rivalry going between team houses (think Harry Potter – only with a little less danger). For instance in January, on the dreaded ‘Blue Monday’ (reportedly the most depressing day of the year), we arranged fish and chips for everyone. This was a great opportunity to down tools, sit with colleagues and have a chat.

As nice as the work environment we have created is, a significant step for us is drawing a very clear line between work and home. The team does not work late or access our servers remotely. Security implications aside, we do not want work encroaching on personal time.

Sure, some of our management team are always reachable for obvious reasons, but when the majority of the team are out of the office, we do not want them obsessing over emails or projects.

This approach has two main benefits. First, when our employees are at home, they can relax, recharge their batteries and enjoy their lives (hence the ‘life should be enjoyed’ theme). Second, it helps focus employees’ time during work hours.

Another possible source of stress particular to financial services is the regular requirement for up-to-date qualifications. From the newest client manager to the most experienced financial planner, many of our staff members are regularly studying.

We appreciate the additional pressure this could cause, as people can struggle to juggle study time with a full-time job. We pay for our employees’ exams and study materials, and offer a free study day on top of holiday allowance per exam. We encourage advancement, but at the same time want people to study at their own pace with as little stress as possible.

The work we put into the team and culture at Equilibrium has not gone unrewarded. I am incredibly proud to say we have won several awards for our culture. Recently, we were named ‘employer of the year’ at the Greater Manchester Business Awards. We also finished in the top 10 in The Sunday Times Top 100 Best Small Companies to Work For (for the second year in a row).

A big part of our culture is giving staff the chance to speak up. We encourage employees to approach their managers and leaders of the business to voice suggestions and give constructive feedback. We also regularly survey our employees to ensure they are still happy and invite them to anonymously voice any opinions they may have.

Encouragingly, our 2018 end-of-year survey found 84% of staff looked forward to going to work, 95% believed their workload was manageable and 93% were very satisfied with the culture at Equilibrium.

2019 will be a busy year as Equilibrium has undergone a lot of growth in recent years. We know our inclusive and supportive culture – and our happy team – will continue to be a massive part of this.

Sarah Warburton is head of culture at Equlibrium Asset Management.