Zac Hartnell, the Business Development Professional for Vintage Health will be offering insight into workplace stress and how companies should take it more seriously; there’s a wider epidemic that’s continuously being discussed but the action to change is continuously being ignored.

What do we do as a business to help your employees with stress? We are in the unique position of trying to implement practices that we encourage other businesses to put in place for their own employees.

Managing stress within the workplace is very important to us for a number of reasons. It improves how we look after our clients, allows us to work better as a rapidly growing team and support our employees’ general wellbeing.

It’s tough to find the right balance of strategies for the team as a whole, as everybody is individual and responds differently. We have been fortunate in that, by growing from a small team of 3 to 7, we have got to know each member of the team intimately and understand what works for them, although most businesses do not have this luxury.

It is tough to do on a larger scale, but managers should try to understand what is important to each of their team members, and this will create a healthy work-life balance within the business.

We introduced home working for a member of our team as we were keen to assess how employees could work remotely rather than needing to be in the office 5 days a week. In this instance, our team member has benefitted from being able to work from home, resulting in increased productivity and reduced travelling time; she is also clearly much happier and more energised.

I would not suggest doing this for everybody though, as some people struggle working from home as they get distracted and their productivity falls. Our team member now comes into the office 1-2 days a week; she says that it keeps her feeling involved with the team without any resentment about the long commute. I can see this being much harder to do on a larger scale and it would need to be well managed with a trust culture ingrained in the company ethos.

Do I believe that flexible working destresses individuals? 100%, but only if you do it step by step.

We have recently changed our office layout and moved into an office with more space. We reduced desk space with the aim of minimising paper which can clutter the mind as well as your desk. We do not have private offices for directors and advisers to sit with their Support Teams. I understand that, in some businesses, managers would not want to sit out on the main floor; however, we find that this allows us to truly understand what is going on and the daily challenges that our team are facing.

Our team members each arrive in the office in their own time, varying from 8-9.30am. Some work later than others or take a shorter lunch break. I believe that because we aren’t militant with people arriving and leaving by a certain time, when people need to work longer or have a stressful day; they don’t mind and are happy to do so.

When it comes to what we do as a business to help our clients manage employee wellbeing, it really depends on what type of business and whether or not engaging in that discussion is genuinely important to them.

With owner-managed businesses, it can be difficult to shift the mindset of Senior Management away from a sole focus on profitability and growth to account for employee and employer wellbeing. Some owner-managed businesses have been around for 20-30 years and in many cases, they have always worked a certain way and seen consistent results.

Much of the stress throughout the company can be caused simply by the volume of work. There can be inefficiencies in processes, growth problems for businesses that have grown from small to medium-sized, and sometimes the workload on employees can feel relentless. There are many external factors that influence the volume of workload too.

For example, law firms, financial services and accountancy firms will have completely different working environments and stressors compared to those of a retail shop or manufacturing and construction businesses.

Age demographics can be a huge factor too. Younger employees are aware of the discussions around wellbeing and informed about the work environments that are being created by start-up businesses; they have a lower tolerance for feeling undervalued.

For start-up businesses, the challenges can be very different. When there hasn’t been sufficient time for people to been assigned defined roles, it can be an “all hands on deck” mentality within the business and they may need larger HR Teams to help manage this.

The pressure of consistently recruiting new employees, building the right team, creating an enjoyable work environment and meeting forecasted growth targets is an entirely different challenge to retaining long-standing employees within an owner-managed business.

It’s also important to think about what has the biggest impact on mental health within the workplace.

The main stresses tend to be external factors that influence your mindset at work. These can be your current age, your financial and social background, your own expectations of what “successful” is and the expectations placed on you by family and friends.

When I started out in my career, my main stress was money. I had a competitive nature where I compared myself to my friends of the same age and I wanted to earn more than them. I valued short term success by monetary earnings. I found this stress changed when my fixed costs like rent and bills increased at a faster rate than my earnings (or it felt like they did) – no doubt a common feeling experienced by most people. These stresses were shared by some of my colleagues who were “higher earners” but had families and mortgages to pay.

To assume money is the main cause of all stress would be hugely misplaced; unfortunately, most companies believe that by paying more money, people will somehow cope with stress better. Of course it can help, but stress can come from additional responsibility and the pressure to perform in a short space of time with the need to justify your salary.

In order to provide greater support than just advising on medical insurance, we talk to clients about the things that matter to them on a day-to-day basis. If our sole focus was just to cut costs and keep the benefits the same as they were since day one without really understanding what our clients are trying to achieve, then we are not offering anything more than a comparison website. It’s about asking the right questions.

My biggest issue with the mental health discussion is that we’re raising awareness, but nobody has offered real solutions.

Talking about mental health is half the problem but people are still getting depressed at work, leading to continuous stress. The reality is that some people will always be stressed at work, no matter how many different strategies you put in place to prevent it. So how do you fundamentally deal with it?

If we talk about it on a regular basis, it’s slow-burning and the challenge is getting companies to adopt new habits. A compulsory hour a day of exercise in the workplace would be a very good starting point. Employees would be paid as usual for this hour and there would be a huge benefit.

Most companies will say that “people can exercise in their own time”, but if people were paid to exercise and it formed part of their employment contract, they would inevitably be healthy, more productive and more energised. Exercise leads to the release of endorphins which gives us a positive feeling and is likely to lead to a happier working environment.

The main factor, as always, is that if companies don’t want their employees to be stressed, then it has to come from the top down. If people are stressed but they can come into work where there are facilities in place for them to talk to someone – and this is actively encouraged by Management – then the stress isn’t allowed to build up.

It’s very hard when you’re running a business to tell someone to do something in a high-pressure environment and not stress that person out. We believe that there are clear and simple methods that companies can put in place to try and minimise the effects of mental health issues in the workplace.

As a business, there are different methods we use to make sure we are asking the right questions. All of our advisers have previously worked in financial services and not solely medical insurance. We are introducing the idea of offering personalised financial advice to senior management via our associated company Vintage Wealth Management.

By experiencing personalised advice first-hand, we have seen an increase in clients offering this benefit to all their staff. Currently, we are providing personalised financial advice to the directors of the business for about 10% of our clients. For most owner-led businesses, the boundary between their personal life and their business is paper-thin. This type of advice can also help to shape the directions that the companies take because we’re syncing their personal lives with their business objectives.

Businesses are just a group of people working together, so it’s only logical that if your business looks after their employees with their best interests at heart, then your team will be stronger and you will build a better business.

An example of this was a tech company that was looking to put a medical insurance policy in place for their staff. They had 8 employees and they were recruiting people from abroad for their expertise. From a medical point of view, this was a risk to the business as these employees had no insurance. They would have had to fly back to their home country if they had a health issue. We talked about setting up a worldwide medical policy, but they needed to get the quotes approved by the Board.

By the time they had received Board approval, they had 35 employees and needed to reprice the scheme. Given the rate of growth in the company, we started to ask a different set of questions. How has it grown at this rate? What are your short- and long-term plans? Do you foresee growth at this rate going forward?

This allows us to ensure that the policy is not just suitable to meet today’s requirements, but has long term sustainability, whilst also bringing attention to the different risks that our Vintage sister companies can assist with.

The conversation evolves from being product-based to service-based. This is clearly the future of our sector and we don’t expect this to change overnight, but we believe that corporate advisory businesses need to be able to service all areas and provide a “one-stop-shop” service to truly provide businesses with the best advice.