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Guest Comment: When banks talk of work-life balance, it’s all just rhetoric. In reality, they treat us more like tools than people

Feeling unbalanced

Feeling unbalanced

Banks say it all the time: their people are their most valuable assets…treating their people well is a top priority, and so on and so on. But when it comes to walking the talk, do banks really measure up?

Well, they have certainly improved in the last decade, at least on the surface. Benefits like paternity leave and retirement medical insurance are more commonplace nowadays, which is great.

But despite this, I’m not sure management’s mentality towards their staff has actually changed that much. When it comes to the crunch, it’s all about the bottom line; people are still viewed as tools, and are simplified into financial-productivity and performance indicators, with well-being often coming off second best.

Of course I agree that a key purpose of employing someone is to provide a valuable output for the organisation and that their performance must be measured. But at the same time, we are not simply “resources”; machines are resources, commodities are resources. People are unique individuals, with feelings and emotions, who deserve better than just to be boiled down into a bunch of KPIs.

Work, work, work

For example, a computer can be programmed to perform the same task over and over again 24/7, and it will provide a consistent, logical output. But could you expect the same of a person?

There’s plenty of rhetoric from banks about work-life balance and employee welfare, but I don’t know of any firm that includes personal welfare indicators in job objectives. On the contrary, I constantly hear stories of people being driven to exhaustion, working through block leave, putting in mammoth hours, or regularly coming in on weekends.

Cost cutting and headcount reductions also exacerbate the situation because the surviving few are made to shoulder the workload of people who have left. Surely management are (or should be) aware of this – and overworking is easy enough to monitor – but they prefer to turn a blind eye as long as the job gets done.

Bogus benefits

Many so-called staff benefits are also impractical or cosmetic and don’t actually benefit anyone. What good is setting official working hours at 6pm when no one can actually leave the office then? Or “increasing” leave benefit from five working days to seven calendar days? Or having “exam leave” when line managers never approve requests anyway?

Employers should realise that taking advantage of work-life, um, “balance” is ultimately counterproductive. Perhaps Ridley Scott put it best in Blade Runner: “The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long”. For long-term sustainability and retention, employers need to start really walking the talk. Otherwise staff may suck it up for a while, but eventually they will lose heart, burn out, change jobs or just give up. Banks be warned.

The author is a financial services employee in Hong Kong. The views expressed are his own and not those of eFinancialCareers.

Comments (1)

  1. Corporate never cares. They say one and act the other way. It is always the case. They spend money for publicity to lure innocents to be their tools, all tools are replaceable. No one truly cares except a real human who still has a heart.

    You are forced to burn yourself out. If you do not burn night oil, you are not committed. If you burn night oil, you are ineffective and inefficient. If you leave at 6pm because you have finished your work, that means you have not got enough work and can be laid off. If you leave after 12am because they have overloaded you, however that would also be interpreted as you are not coping and so you can be laid off.

    At the end of the day they work you till death and hire cheaper labour to replace you. That is the work corporate life.

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