Building on employee goodwill in banking


Layoff concerns muddle otherwise positive talent outlook


The banking industry appears to be a great place to work based on data from the 2023 State of Work in America survey conducted by Grant Thornton LLP.


Banking employees are highly engaged, and their organizations are looking out for their well-being. These employees are much more likely than their peers in other industries to say they are paid fairly for their work. Even the banking employees who have switched jobs recently have overwhelmingly (85%) stayed in the same industry.


But banking leaders have some troubles to address with their workforce as well. Banking employees are more likely than workers in other industries to report burnout, and they’re quite concerned that they might get laid off. They’re also looking to capitalize on the opportunities for advancement that attracted them to their jobs in the first place.


In an industry with many more positives than negatives, these issues can be addressed to make the banking workplace even more rewarding for employees.


Addressing advancement


Focus on skills, not just titles


This bar chart shows Grant Thornton State of Work in America Survey data revealing that banking professionals are more likely than their peers to say their organization cares about them, their voice is heard at work, and their organization is a great place to work.

Banking employees reported in the survey that advancement opportunities were the top reason that they were attracted to their current job.


But a lack of advancement opportunities also was the top reason they would consider leaving their job.


Margaret Belden, a Director in Grant Thornton’s People and Organization practice, said banks should spend more time developing job architectures and career development paths for their people. Banking’s traditional hierarchy of prescribed years and successive steps to associate, senior associate and beyond can be challenging for highly ambitious, talented people who want to be rewarded based on their contributions, not years of service.


Belden said it’s important for banks to be transparent about roles, career paths and progression so employees can evolve their views to better align with industry expectations on important aspects of experience development. Graham Tasman, Industry Managing Principal and Banking Sector Lead for Grant Thornton, said it’s also important to develop a shared definition of the term “advancement.”


Graham Tasman

"The chance to apply technology and innovation in the delivery of banking services is a tremendous opportunity for anyone embarking on a career.”

Graham Tasman

Industry Managing Principal and Banking Sector Lead

Advancement may not mean a promotion or a title change. It also could mean an opportunity to do a rotation in another area where an employee develops new skills and works with different professionals in a different environment or product and service area. In many cases, it’s a chance to develop skills that will be extremely valuable throughout their career.


“The chance to apply technology and innovation in the delivery of banking services is a tremendous opportunity for anybody embarking on a career,” Tasman said. “While traditional finance banking skills are still core, having a technology dimension and innovative mindset in banking opens up tremendous opportunities for career advancement.”


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Resist layoffs, embrace hybrid


Adopt a long-term approach to talent


More than one-fourth (27%) of banking respondents said in the survey that they’re afraid they might be laid off or lose their job in the next six months. That’s 10 percentage points higher than the layoff fears reported by employees of all industries in the survey.


The recent volatility in banking and the demises of Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank and First Republic Bank may be fueling layoff concerns in the industry. But for banks that are considering layoffs to trim costs during the current economic downturn, Tasman has an important reminder.


It wasn’t long ago that companies couldn’t find enough talent through the COVID-19 pandemic. Company leaders won’t soon forget how hard it was to recruit to fill key positions, and so companies may be taking a longer-term approach to talent and may be less eager to downsize.


“Do institutions really want to let people go?” Tasman asked. “While they may be in the moment with potentially difficult operating circumstances, they would certainly have contemplated what it means to not have those resources once the next growth window accelerates.”


Another issue for banking leaders to consider carefully — especially with regard to banking’s challenges with burnout — is hybrid work. Nearly three-fourths (72%) of banking respondents in the survey (compared with 64% of total respondents) said they want flexibility in where and when they conduct their work.


Tasman said hybrid work is a nuanced issue in banking because there is a large variety of positions in the industry. Remote work options may be scarce for customer-facing positions, but back-office and call center employees may have the ability to work remotely, provided appropriate privacy and data controls policies are enforceable.


“When you have people working remotely, you have all kinds of privacy issues that come into play, and it’s important that institutions fully evaluate the data security risks that go along with that,” Tasman said.


This pie chart shows Grant Thornton State of Work in American Survey data indicating that more than half of banking employees prefer to work in the office at least two days per week, and most prefer hybrid working arrangements.

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Manage hybrid issues


Promote based on accomplishments, not location or visibility


Banking employees are more likely than their peers to say their organizations are transparent about their career path and support their development, according to this bar chart based on Grant Thornton State of Work in America Survey data.

Hybrid work requires management to manage differently. It is likely that many leaders are still favoring those in office vs. their colleagues outside the office in promotions and performance. 


Belden advised leadership to guard against this type of bias in promotions and advancement. She urged management to make sure they are connecting adequately with their remote workers, and to promote people based on their job performance, not on where they are located and when they work.


This requires extra effort from leadership. “A person doesn’t need to be physically in front of me to be a contributor,” Belden said. “The people involved in leadership need to make sure there is fairness and equity in the promotion and advancement process.”


Margaret Belden

“A person doesn’t need to be physically in front of me to be a contributor. The people involved in leadership need to make sure there is fairness and equity in the promotion and advancement process.”

Margaret Belden

Director, People and Transformation

The biggest challenge for management related to hybrid work, though, might be making sure that it prevents burnout rather than creating it. In the survey, banking employees said that remote work has provided them with better work/life balance and cost savings, but it has also affected them negatively because of distractions at home and a lack of face-to-face contact with other employees. These challenges related to hybrid work can add to burnout rather than alleviating it.


Overall, 58% of banking employees said that hybrid work has positively affected their organization’s culture. That’s nearly identical to the percentage of workers overall (59%) who saw hybrid as a positive.


With that in mind, Tasman noted that it remains to be seen where banking leaders will land with respect to hybrid work policies. Some may wish to offer flexibility to gain more access to top talent. Some may choose a more office-based environment to develop more meaningful in-person engagement. “I believe it is still too soon to know for sure which version of in-office, remote, or hybrid mix will emerge as the optimal working model,” Tasman said.


It’s also possible that external events might swing the remote work pendulum in one way or the other — and back again.



Make the most of employees’ time


Get processes and technology in order


Although many organizations have devoted substantial time and resources to improving their processes over the past five years, efficiency remains a problem throughout the workforce — and more so in banking.


Seven in 10 workers in the State of Work in America survey — and 74% of banking employees — said at least 10% of their work should be done by another person or department.


“It’s important to understand who’s doing what and how you’re streamlining work,” Belden said.


Although banking employees were more likely than their peers to be satisfied with their technology, Tasman said the need to streamline and become more efficient is actually a great opportunity for newer employees to make their mark as catalysts for change. “They should actually want to own that mission to help transform how work is done to improve processes, leverage automation and help lead with innovative ideas,” he said.


That kind of leadership — along with a management focus on advancement and successfully managing a hybrid workforce — can pave the way for continued high engagement in the banking industry.




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