Canary Wharf raises the bar on workplace wellbeing

By Revd Prebendary Dr Fiona Stewart-Darling

With wellbeing a boardroom priority for organisations across the world, Revd Fiona Stewart-Darling discusses how the Canary Wharf Multifaith Chaplaincy helps employees build mental resilience and prevent everyday worries from spiralling towards burnout.

On the surface, Canary Wharf’s transformation from derelict docklands to a global financial capital is one of the UK’s biggest success stories. But change comes at a cost. Now home to 150 corporates that employ 120,000 workers, as well as 4,000 residents and 360 retail outlets, given the continued diversification and development of the estate by Canary Wharf Group, the Canary Wharf Multifaith Chaplaincy (CWMC) recognises the importance of adapting to accommodate these changes to balance the needs of its growing community, protecting the wellbeing on the estate, while helping its owners to create a safe space for everyone to live and work.

In the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns, wellbeing stepped into the spotlight. Today, 70% of senior leaders have employee wellbeing firmly on their agenda, because it can affect employee attendance, job performance, and the likelihood they will leave the business – according to research from Gallup, 15% to 20% of total payroll in voluntary turnover costs is due to employee burnout.

The mix of nationalities, ethnicities, sexualities, genders, and religions within Canary Wharf means there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to wellbeing. As recommended in the ‘New Insights into Workplace Chaplaincy’ report, support should reflect that given within healthcare, where every person is valued and cared for in accordance with their priorities, needs, abilities, and limits.

The experience of CWMC’s chaplains coupled with the connections the charity has to specialist organisations, place it in the perfect position to provide the right pastoral care to Canary Wharf.

Despite being faith leaders in their communities with strong Christian, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim beliefs, the chaplains remain united in their goal to support individuals and companies across the estate with any help they need. It is a true community partnership with the CWMC working with tenants’ ESG, DEI, and HR teams, as well as retail and restaurant management, security teams, construction bosses, childcare providers, and individual workers/residents.

The secret weapon: a kitchen table

The #1 priority for wellbeing on the Wharf is inclusion. When a community is truly inclusive, people feel comfortable bringing their whole self to work because they know everyone is valued equally.

Inclusion also means understanding how faith impacts the workplace. For example, the working environment and the need to make special considerations for prayer, or how to manage behaviours and avoid conflict when ethics, values, or opinions do not align.

Rather than impose beliefs on others, or toe the line that ‘everything will be ok’, CWMC takes a kitchen table approach to wellbeing.

In an ideal world, families would come together over the kitchen table to share a meal, talk about everything that happened in their days, and offload any worries. But in the hustle and bustle of modern life, this crucial time for reflection has been lost to late nights, endless scrolling, and schedules that don’t quite align. Today, people are so distracted, that there’s no time to talk. And yet two-thirds of employees are struggling at work because of daily worries.

Daily worries don’t necessarily need big interventions, like professional counselling or medication. When people have had a stressful day or find themselves in a difficult situation, they just need someone to dump those worries onto to prevent the downward spiral of rumination. Simply knowing someone is listening is hugely powerful because people realise they are cared for, accepted, and valued.

Fancy a coffee and a chat?

All it takes is a quick call. A chaplain will meet the person the same day, whenever and wherever they feel most comfortable, for a coffee and a chat – or if that feels like too much, online, over messenger, or via email.

Chaplains welcome conversations on anything, from a conflict at work to a relationship breakdown, bereavement, worries over children’s mental health or caring for elderly relatives. Every worry is listened to in confidence, in a non-judgmental way, and without dictating what should happen next.

We spend a third of our lives at work and it’s important we feel able to focus on the job at hand. By checking in regularly with the Canary Wharf community, the CWMC is freeing workers from the burden of everyday worries, which left to internalise can lead to anxiety, depression, and burnout.

It’s so simple to replicate. Just grab a coffee, gather around the (kitchen) table, and chat.

About the author

Fiona established the CWMC in 2004 and over these 20 years has developed solid relationships and networks with the Canary Wharf Group, global banks, and law firms. The organisation provides pastoral care to the area’s 150 corporates that employ 120,000 workers, as well as 4,000 residents, 360 retail outlets, and a large contingent of construction workers. Despite its reputation as a financial district, 45% of Canary Wharf is home to retail and hospitality, security and construction teams, childcare providers, and other businesses.

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