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A bleak future for banking? Challenges facing the 21st century bank worker

Authors: Emily Anderton Emily Anderton

27 March 2013

In a collaborative piece of research with the Bank Workers Charity and Robertson Cooper, The Work Foundation has been exploring the work and non-work challenges experienced by 21st century bank workers. The research sampled a cross-section of bank workers, at various levels across the industry in a range of different roles. Emerging from this research are a number of early warning signs for the future of the banking and finance industry, but also avenues for various stakeholders to intervene now and prevent the real risk of run-down, burnout and psychological withdrawal from work in its workforce.

For many employees, the demands and pressures existing in non-work life have changed markedly over the past decade. The rise of ‘The Sandwich Generation’ – a generation of individuals responsible for both childcare and eldercare – means increasing numbers of UK workers are facing significant responsibility outside of work, on top of everyday hassles such as long commutes and household demands. At the same time, the economic downturn has led to pay losses of 4.5 per cent in real terms for UK workers between 2007 and 2011 (TUC) and, as a result, many employees find it difficult to meet their financial commitments. Despite popular misconceptions regarding the financial and individual circumstances of bank workers, a large proportion of bank workers face the same challenges and are similarly vulnerable to the threat of financial hardship. Our survey of bank workers revealed 81.1 per cent had debts or loans that they were currently repaying, and worryingly, 30.8 per cent of those with debts or loans reported that they were struggling to keep up with re-payments.

Mounting pressures in the home lives of employees reiterate the reliance many have on their income, and underscores the importance of paid work. At the same time, many employees face multiple troubles and stresses in their working lives. Large-scale organisational restructures across the banking and finance sector, driven by changing technologies, pressures of globalisation, growing customer demands and the unfavourable economic climate have considerably impressed on bank workers’ job security. This has essentially disempowered individuals in the context of a ‘buyer’s market’. Employees are increasingly faced with the pressure to deliver ever more complex and multifaceted services on a global scale, whilst dealing with the prevailing threat of job losses, a decline in traditional career and pay progression and the overwhelming reputational challenges currently facing the banking and finance sector.

So what does this mean for the future of the banking and finance industry? Emerging from our research were four groups of bank workers, each with distinct attitudes and behaviours towards their work and non-work responsibilities. We found approximately a quarter of bank workers were happy, content and engaged in both their work and non-work lives. However, a worryingly large proportion of the research sample were either extremely stressed, burnt-out, or fully disenchanted. This followed as a result of their inability to simultaneously manage home hassles and workplace demands, leading to considerable decline in their productivity, physical and psychological well-being.

With such high proportions of bank workers unable, unwilling or unmotivated to work to the best of their ability, the ambition for a high performance culture across the banking and finance sector may be undermined. Once an attractive career prospect for ambitious young people, the reputational challenges facing the banking and finance industry have dented the enthusiasm of future bank workers. As a result, the banks end up with an increasingly unnerved, pressurised and, in many cases, disenchanted workforce – a large proportion of which sees no way out of the stressful situation. Unless organisations and support agencies gain insight and support bank workers to manage the unique challenges they are faced with in both work and home life, the future for the banking and finance sector looks bleak. 

A full report to be published in summer 2013

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