You may be losing your mojo. Bonuses are down and most investment banks have decided that now is a good time to roll out redundancies. Morale is low, so much so that senior bankers are sending out motivational emails to juniors in an attempt to stop bottom lips dragging along the trading floor.
For most, though, the current climate means a lack of opportunities. Even if you survive the layoffs, a lack of alternatives is leaving many bankers feeling stuck and this is bad news for psychological health and workplace motivation. Such demotivating scenarios mean investment bankers are more likely to display the sort of behaviour associated with someone staying at home in their pyjamas all day than that associated with a dynamic professional environment, according to Sonia Inniss, a business coach at Consultants at Work, who advises senior executives including those in the financial sector.
If you've lost your motivation and if there's no obvious way out, how can you make the most of the scenario you find yourself in?
When under pressure at work, our brains are programmed to do more, not less, argues Dr Michael Sinclair, a consultant psychologist and clinical director at the City Psychology Group. This combined with a perceived lack of appreciation for your efforts, is likely to start the slow slide to demotivation.
“Your mind is racing between fear of redundancy, pressure to perform, a lack of appreciation and a constant need to be connected,” he says. “Create space between the demands of your job and provide some relief. If you’re always doing, how can you expect to regain your energy and enthusiasm.”
Staying late in the office and expecting your manager to appreciate your efforts doesn’t happen automatically. People in investment banking often get stuck at VP level because they’re too focused on their individual projects and don’t get a broader view of the machinations of the whole company, or don’t have a unique specialisation, argues Rudolf Wötzel, the former head of M&A for German-speaking countries at Lehman Brothers, who now runs a consultancy business and owns a pub in the Swiss Alps.
“Young people must develop a feel for particular job requirements at different levels. It’s also vital to develop a specialisation in which you will be recognised as competent and valuable – for example, specialising in hostile takeovers,” he says.
If you’re not in a senior position, you’re unlikely to get out of your current rut in isolation, argues Inniss, and it’s important to connect with your colleagues. Stop thinking about tasks in terms of career progression and start doing something that is likely to elicit some enthusiasm.
“A potentially powerful response is to engage with colleagues or counterparts in a project which is innovative, interesting and adds value to a shared task,” says Inniss. “Whether it gets recognised by more senior people immediately is another matter, but it can be stimulating and absorbing.”
Are you really working in the right sector or job? What made you enter banking in the first place, and did you fall into your current niche or should you be looking at alternatives? Before you can move forward, you need to first look back, argues Phillip Hodson, a psychotherapist, broadcaster and author.
“Have some reflection on why you entered the banking sector and what gives you pleasure about working in your job. If you were just attracted by money, it’s unlikely that you’ll get much fulfilment out of the job in the future,” he says.
If you hate what you’re doing now, and can’t see any way out, the prospect of sticking with it for the next 20 years is a daunting and unappealing prospect. More pressing, however, is the fact that the rapid pace of change in financial services right now - whether that's banks pulling out of shrinking business areas, or technology encroaching on jobs that previously required human expertise - could easily mean your skills become redundant. Think about where your sector is going and what you need to do to thrive in the future.
“If you’re really in a dead end job, then it’s time to seriously think about moving on,” says one careers consultant working with banks, who declined to be named. “However, appraise what your options are, where your sector is heading, what skills you have and what you need to develop to succeed. Any good employer will help develop staff they value.”
Do you really hate your job, or do you just need to make some changes? Will a heart to heart with a mentor or manager help make some tweaks to your position that could reengage you?
“I have family who work in financial services who often phone me for advice about the pressures of the job,” says Hodson. “You have to distinguish between whether what you’re feeling is a natural reaction to stress or a broader dissatisfaction. If you’re having panic attacks and constant feelings of anxiety, you have acquired an illness from work and need to get treatment.”
The careers consultant recommends taking a step back from your current position and assessing whether you really have the right personality to succeed in the job.
“You could take something like the John Hollands Inventory, or simply talk to family and friends about what they could see you doing as a career if you weren’t working in finance. This could provide reassurance that you’re on the right track, or prompt you to consider your options,” she says.
At the senior end, bankers have had their roles and value to society scrutinised more than ever, while many in the financial sector have felt the need to lie about their jobs in social situations. Banks are even holding conferences on behaviour, ethical standards and winning back public trust.
You shouldn’t have to pretend you’re perfect, argues Inniss.
“The cloaks of omnipotence and omniscience which some of the decision-makers seem to have worn have been removed to reveal frailties which are not particularly encouraging when looked at from inside or outside the sector,” she says. “Individuals are affected by this if only because they now recognise the increased risk which comes with increased accountability. Suddenly, the notion of consequences has grown closer and more real.”
This may sound obvious, but just acknowledging your behaviour can be the first step to changing it, says Sinclair. “We still have caveman brains and getting caught up in a spiral of fear, information overload and stress can zap our energy. Step back and create an awareness about your behaviour – this can release the pressure.”