The banking industry – like many other sectors – has always had its stereotypes. Even before the media spotlight of the financial crisis, the typical view of the typical banking professional would be of the long-hours, money-motivated, high-performance kind. Certainly when it comes to work-life balance, many would assume bank employees to favour the work side of the equation, above all else.
But it’s strange that these stereotypes are often applied across the board in a sector that employs so many people. Indeed, only now are we beginning to understand the modern banking professional – the relationship between their work and home lives, and the balance struck between performance and individual well-being.
New research from the Bank Workers Charity in the UK is building momentum in understanding how banks themselves can support their employees in the modern workplace. Its recent report – Bank on your People – was a myth buster for much of the banker stereotype. It found, for example, that like in many other sectors, job security and financial issues are a major concern in financial services – more than a quarter of those surveyed have two or more dependants at home.
Given recent redundancies, particularly within investment banking, those facts shouldn’t really be a surprise – but what’s great to note is the increasing level of support available to employees to help them manage work-life balance.
This is an issue that came to the fore in the UK this summer following the tragic death of Bank of America intern Moritz Erhardt. And last week we heard that Goldman Sachs had announced new rules to limit analysts and associates from working on Saturdays. This week HR professionals from the UK banking industry are coming together on 13 November to discuss the issue of employee well-being and the big strides in employee support and HR strategy that can be made.
Work-life balance and well-being aren’t just ‘hygiene factors’, as some of the older, traditional management thinking might frame the debate. Having a good balance (as well as a high level of resilience) is directly related to physical health and performance. In the Bank on your People report, those employees found to have the highest engagement in their job, twinned with the least concern over their work-life balance, were amongst the highest performers.
Research from well-being experts, Robertson Cooper, has recently reinforced the links between psychological resilience and performance too, as well as making a strong link to physical health. It’s these links between performance and well-being which are taking banks beyond absence management and tertiary intervention as a traditional HR two-pronged approach.
Getting the work culture right – including elements like flexible working and excellent support structures – these are the things which are key to business performance. There’s another stark statistic from the Bank on your People report – of the group of least engaged employees most troubled by work-life balance, only 18% worked their contracted hours, with many working much longer.
That figure rises to a much healthier 53% for the most productive groups of employees. Without being prescriptive on the issue of hours, the links are clear, and it’s about giving employees choice and control.
So the banking sector is changing, led by an effort to understand the complex lives of modern workers whose boundaries between work and non-work aren’t as cut and dried as they used to be. And it’s this kind of research and debate that will continue to shape a sector which is just as modern, as well as effective, offering an alternative to the long-hours culture. The writer Henry Thoreau summed it up best – “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”
Cary Cooper is a director and founder of the well-being consultancy Robertson Cooper and Professor of Organisational Psychology & Health at Lancaster University.