De-Stressing Workers: Can Firms Help?

Everything from inflation to heat waves has made working in the UK tougher. Can firms help with issues outside of the office?

The British are stressed. Inflation remains stubbornly high and monthly housing costs are surging as interest rates keep ratcheting up. At the same time, the country has been blighted by a searing heat wave. Little wonder that corporate leaders are worried about a mounting issue with worker engagement.

Indeed, according to a recent survey, almost two in five workers feel stressed every day, and 19% say they are angry—well above the average European rate of 14%. Overall, Britain’s worker engagement is the lowest in all of Europe, and experts peg it to a series of issues outside of—rather than inside—the corporate world. “When you have no control of these things, it can be disempowering for many people,” says Matthew Atkinson, a Korn Ferry associate client partner and assessment and succession leader in the UK and Ireland. “You can think the world is against you.”

One issue, experts say, is that when HR leaders are faced with stress factors like inflation and climate change, they assume there’s not much companies can do. But some experts say smart firms are looking for ways to step in where they might not have before, empowering workers both with more empathy and more tools. “My view is, the more HR can do to help people take responsibility for themselves, the better,” Atkinson says.

For example, some companies are bringing in more financial advisors who can discuss finances with employees. That would likely include discussions about pensions, savings, and budgeting, as well as the personal goals of the individuals involved. With the current financial stresses of rising mortgage payments and inflation, talking with experts could be an important move in de-stressing, experts say.

Decentralizing of offices can help too. Home prices in the London region have soared, and rising monthly mortgage costs have exacerbated the problem and led to a bit of a household budget squeeze for some. In response, some firms have already begun deploying some of their workforce to other locations. In turn that opens the opportunity for employees to move.

That said, this tactic can only work for sizable companies. “You need a critical mass, and you need a company to invest to bring in the right people," says David Power, Korn Ferry’s principal consultant for global fintech, digital assets, and blockchain in London. Put another way, there need to be enough people in each office. Otherwise this approach has the drawbacks of working at home, such as lower levels of collaboration.

The current heat wave may only be a temporary issue, as the UK is usually cool and damp. Still, some days may be too hot for travel on sticky, non-air-conditioned trains or buses, and that may require leaders to add some flexibility vis-à-vis which days are compulsory office days. It may also work the other way around. “More people might end up coming into the office to work in an environment where it is comfortable,” Power says.


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