The Two Biggest Innovation Killers in Banking Today

At a time when banks and credit unions need innovative ideas, the internal use digital technology without proper oversight is causing high levels of employee stress. Positive customer experience increasingly depends on a positive employee experience. Financial institutions that proactively address workers' well-being will be rewarded by greater innovation.

Digitalization is having a massive, generally positive, impact on banking customers’ experience. Mobile and online services are taking accessibility to a new level and speeding up processing. Artificial intelligence and process automation will allow more personalization and customization of services.

In sharp contrast to that picture, digitalization is having a generally negative impact on banking employees’ experience. Stress and burnout are on the rise as digital technology allows employees to be constantly connected and interrupted resulting in longer hours and higher stress. The days lost to work-related stress in banking are even higher than during the crash of 2008, according to Personnel Today. Compared to other sectors banking employees feel less in control of their well-being.

Innovation Killer No. 1: Constant Connectivity

The same mobile technology that allows customers to access their bank at any time and from anywhere also allows employee to work anytime and anywhere. With mobile devices many employee’s work day ends with a quick check of emails just before going to bed, and then looking at the them again before even getting out of bed in the morning. The work day is spread across all waking hours, with only a break to sleep. There is hardly time left in most people’s day when work is not on their mind.

“Unlike an ATM, the human brain doesn’t work better when it is always on. People work better with a period of intense concentration followed by a short break, repeating this pattern frequently.”

Unlike an ATM, the human brain doesn’t work better when it is always on. People work better with a period of intense concentration (1-2 hours) followed by a short break (10-15 minutes), repeating this pattern frequently. While it doesn’t take much time to quickly check emails in the morning or evening, it creates a mental drag where work is always on the mind.

This creates attention residue. The term describes how it is difficult to switch the thoughts from one task to the next because unwanted thoughts about the first task, or residue thoughts, keep coming to mind, draining away thoughts and energy, from the second task. This leads to a slow and steady build-up of stress.

Time to switch off and refresh is needed for people to be innovative and creative. We’ve all experienced the phenomena of the best ideas coming when we are not thinking about work — when we’re in shower or out jogging. This is when ideas have been processing in the back of the mind or subconscious. They create different connections than the usual pathways and so the new ideas and creative thoughts pop up.

The experience of employees in the banking sector is that they have substantially less time to be creative compared to other industries (37% compared to 53%), according to research by U.K.-based Bank Workers Charity.

It seems counterintuitive but encouraging people to work less is going to make most people more productive and innovative. And new ideas and innovation are what the banking sector needs in a time of rapid change.

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Innovation Killer No. 2: Digital Interruption

Most employees have about six minutes to focus on a task before they allow themselves to be interrupted by an email notification, IM or another alert. To perform well cognitively requires concentration and attention. Constant interruptions mean that thoughts flit in and out of the brain and without giving them any attention, ideas don’t form fully, no learning takes place and problems are not solved.

“Jumping from one task to another every six minutes is not really thinking, it’s just being a human processor.”

Jumping from one task to another every six minutes is not really thinking, it’s just being a human processor — typing an answer to an email, finding some information and moving on. Work like answering emails, finding information in documents and even basic analysis will eventually be — or already has been — automated.

The real value people offer is the ability to solve complex problems, applying creative ideas and using emotional intelligence to influence others. But if they never have the time to do this, not only is it not advancing the business but it is frustrating and demotivating for employees. Motivation comes from being able to achieve steps towards a clear goal or purpose. And six minutes is not enough time to see any sort of progress and feel motivated in any way.

How to Improve Banking Employees’ Experience

Banks spend so much time understanding the customer journey and creating positive customer experiences, it’s now time to invest in making a positive employee experience. Team leaders play a crucial role in creating the day-to-day employee experience. They have the most impact on the “moments that matter” for employees — e.g. the feeling that they have an opportunity to do meaningful work which contributes to something of value.

Team leaders play an important role in setting expectations about the responsiveness required by employees outside of their working hours. If a manager sends emails on a Sunday night, his or her team leaders start responding, creating a ripple effect as their team members then begin responding. It likely has never been articulated that the team members should respond, but people are quick to pick up social cues from the group. And especially if it is a competitive environment or job security is threatened, working on weekends is likely to be seen as a good thing. Mangers need to set clear expectations that they don’t expect instant responses all weekend and after hours, to allow their team members to be more focused when at work.

Bank and credit union managers can also influence the working environment by creating times for uninterrupted work during business hours. In most workplaces 80% of the working day is lost to meetings and reacting to emails. Try creating a blackout time where there are no emails or meetings. Various companies have tried this with success, usually after some initial pushback. Ideas like this create more time for people to think and work on complex problems and give them a chance make progress on goals. Progress brings its own reward as seeing progress is motivating.

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A Different Approach is Needed in The Digital Era

As the world of banking continues its rapid move into the digital era, it is time to recognize how the same technology that benefits the customer experience is negatively impacting the employee experience. Bank and credit union executives need to rethink the traditional paradigms that productivity will be higher if people work longer. This may have worked in the industrial era, but it is not what defines success now. In the digital era, it is creativity and innovation that are going to set a bank apart from their competitors, therefore having motivated and engaged employees is critical.

Creating an employee experience that allows your people to progress towards goals, solve problems and have time to come up with valuable new ideas will create a competitive advantage.

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