Keeping Bank Employees Engaged in the New ‘New Normal’

Research indicates that many financial organizations improved in almost all elements of employee engagement in the wake of the pandemic and its aftermath. How can they sustain that momentum?

Keeping financial services employees engaged has become more challenging — and more urgent.

Record numbers of workers have quit their jobs in the U.S. and the U.K. As turnover has grown, employee engagement — people’s mental and emotional investment in their work and workplace — has been tested. But in today’s climate, engagement isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a business imperative — especially as companies with engaged employees gain such benefits as higher productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability.

The financial services industry, including banking, hasn’t been immune from the so-called Great Reshuffle. But according to Workday’s State of Engagement Report 2022, it did make measurable gains in employee engagement during 2021. Of the 17 industries analyzed, financial services’ engagement ranking jumped from ninth to fifth place.

The report compared the engagement scores given by employees working in different industries over the 12-month period, as well as scores for the 14 drivers of engagement, including such measures as autonomy, goal setting, meaningful work, reward and recognition.

Historically, organizations in the banking and financial services have been said to be less quick to evolve than others. However, as our research shows, the industry has improved. That’s noteworthy given the enduring pandemic-related and economic turbulence of 2021 —and the fact that during that time global engagement scores overall slightly declined.

Where Financial Services Improved in Employee Engagement

Remarkably, the industry saw increased rankings and scores in all but one of the 14 engagement drivers that the State of Engagement report measures.

Of all 17 industries analyzed, financial services took top place for goal setting by the end of 2021 and landed among the top three sectors for strategy and recognition too. These strong results indicate the industry provided clear direction to its people at both individual and organizational levels, and appropriately recognized employees when they met their goals.

The improvement in the industry’s overall engagement rose especially because a significant number of employees responded positively to having more freedom around where they worked during that second year of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, it was unusual for banking and financial services organizations to offer flexible options at all. But in 2021, more than ever before, many of its employees were working remotely or enjoying a hybrid of both remote and in-office work when offices started to re-open. The unprecedented choice in where, how, and when they worked was appreciated, as the report indicates, by many workers in the sector.

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Where There’s Room For Improvement in Banking

As the report found, many employees feel the amount of work they have is increasingly unmanageable. Workload continues to be a pain point across all industries globally, with workload satisfaction scores dipping slightly in 2021. At the end of the year, financial services received its lowest engagement-driver score for workload and ranked 11th among the 17 industries analyzed.

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Employees in banking and financial services found their workload less manageable — not surprising given that remote working can lead to always-on work lives.

To help mitigate burnout and diminished engagement going forward, financial services leaders and managers will need to stay close to their employees to find out how they can best support them. That may be with additional resources, greater work flexibility or updated benefits. Staying abreast of people’s needs and taking necessary action can reveal potential problems before they lead to resignations.

What Banking Should Avoid Going Forward

Some financial institutions continue to try to take a “return to normal” approach, asking staff to come back onsite five days a week. But, as the report shows, this approach may not be the best for everyone, particularly as many employees appreciate and benefit from a greater degree of flexibility.

Of course, not all organizations will be able to provide hybrid or remote arrangements for all their people. But greater flexibility doesn’t necessarily have to mean working remotely. It could mean more flexible scheduling options or a shift in working hours to enable a greater work-life balance.

Either way, to retain the engagement gains achieved, banks and other financial services companies should learn from the pandemic period. Amid so much change, companies cannot simply go back to before, but need to continue moving forward, listening to the needs of its people, and leading with empathy.

Specifically, leaders and managers in banking and financial services will need to stay closer than ever to employee feedback, going beyond listening and working fast to implement change accordingly.

Continuing to make gains in employee engagement, banks will need to:

  • Consider how to retain a degree of flexibility – updating models to reflect evolving employee needs.
  • Continue to provide clear individual and organizational direction to those working remotely and on site.
  • Create and maintain more manageable workloads through prioritization and automating repetitive tasks.

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