The Latin phrase ‘Mens sana in corpore sano’ is usually translated as a healthy or sound mind in a healthy sound body. While the latter is frequently a top focus, the former often is less prominent. Financial professionals are under unprecedented pressure. Stress can help us perform, but the negatives are well documented and it can be a source of disharmony in the workplace.Image.jpg

Physical activity can certainly help boost mental well-being. Many corporates are now looking after the physical health of their employees, with strategies that range from distributing wearable devices to measure physical activity, to corporate video games.

“Being more active means we have a more balanced life,” says Mike Tinney, CEO at Fitness Interactive Experience, a company that encourages corporate employees to be more active through playing video  games that set physical challenges people complete in real life.

According to technology research firm Gartner, as many as 10,000 US-based companies offered employees fitness trackers in 20 14 (up from 2,000 in 2013).

While being more active has a proven impact on mental well-being, it is certainly not the whole picture. Serious mental health issues, such as depression, need professional treatment and can be devastating for individuals but can also lead to reduced productivity and, particularly in the US, an impact on corporate healthcare costs. According to a study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH ), 6,7% of full- time employees in the financial sector will have a major depressive episode each year. With this much at stake, should companies be doing much more to safeguard the morale and health of their workforce?

Trust and mutual respect between colleagues and particularly between employees and those they report to is a cornerstone of a healthy profession al state of mind. SAP, the global software provider, has taken mental well-being in the workplace to a whole new level. Dr. Natalie Lotzmann, head of the company’s health programme, says: “We keep telling our leaders that you are more important to the health of employees than their family doctor. It’s of the utmost importance that business managers and leaders treat people fairly and with respect.”

The happiness index

Indeed employee engagement is one of SAP’s four key performance indicators (KPIs) and since 2009, the company has quantified the correlation between business and employee wellbeing in its business health culture index BHCI). Measuring nonfinancial KPIs enables the company to understand the financial value of employee engagement, employee retention and employee wellbeing. The figures are included in t h e company’s annual report for shareholders. For example, a 1% point move up or down in the BHCI can have a financial impact of £65-75 million. Luckily for SAP, the index of employee well-being rose from 67% in 2013 to 70% in 2014.

“The company’s management firmly believe that creating a work atmosphere that fosters healthy and balanced employees positively influences their ability to produce and perform well,” says Lotzmann, a medical doctor and psychologist who joined SAP in 1997. “While most companies consider this to be a ‘soft topic’, it’s an area that SAP takes very seriously.”

The company’s culture is geared towards helping employee s be healthy and content: from tackling burn out, to encouraging healthy habits. As well as staff “discounts on step tracking devices, there are flexible working hours, onsite gym s, childcare an d running track s. Lotzmann adds: “There is currently a big campaign on mindfulness, which we see as the answer to today’s tech driven, fast-paced work environment.”

SAP has also been concentrating on its leaders in particular, aware of the impact they can have on t h e well being of other company employees. Lotzmann says: “We launched a health programme for the top 1% of SAP’s leaders, which includes the CFO. They are coached on how to conduct one-on ones and how to improve the way they relate to employees. The essence of all this is trust and empathy. So we also have a leadership trust index.”

Big corporations are typically very hierarchical and as treasury and finance professionals make their way up the ladder they have to con tend with growing amounts of responsibility and pressure. For those who can’t let go of the minutiae of daily processes, this in itself can be stressful.

Sharing information and asking colleagues to contribute their views is import ant. “People in leadership positions may have to become much more comfortable with ambiguity and not having the answer, which requires a change of response pattern,” says Dr. Karissa Thacker, a New York-based management psychologist and coach who has worked with many of the Fortune 500 companies to improve executive performance. “Instead, you have to work with people you can trust – because you can’t stay on top otherwise.”

Dealing with conflict

Conflicts of ideas, personality or interests inevitably arise. How can you address them? “While it may be our instinct to avoid a source of conflict and respond by email, it’s usually better to deal with it face-to-lace, as this provides less opportunity for bullying. It’s all about the power dynamic,” says Thacker.

SAP executives receive training on how to manage employees fairly and staff have free access to independent counselling services. So have these measures been successful in tackling negative workplace behaviors, such as bullying? Lotzmann’s impression is that there are very few instances. She says:

”I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen at all, but there is so much bottom-up structure, with open communication channels and processes for dealing with conflicts, that the classic game of ‘doer and victim’ is quickly identified and action can be taken. SAP also has an independent ombudsperson for dealing with these cases.”

Comparing yourself to others can also be a source of stress. It may not make you feel better to know that there’s always going to be a corporate treasurer orCFO out there who is more successful, but take comfort that comparisons can also be an import ant motivator.

Of course, financial remuneration is important in the financial sector but it has been shown that the strength of money as a motivating factor levels off after a certain point on the pay scale and leaders may need to look for motivation in other ways, for example by demonstrating excellence within the department or mentoring junior colleagues. The fact remains that the healthiest motivator is finding you r work rewarding and satisfying in itself.


This article was first published in Treasury Perspectives Magazine Issue 2015/2016, 10th anniversary edition.

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