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Are bank employees stressed out?

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Twenty-two-year-old Gupta, an analyst at the Goldman Sachs office in San Francisco, calls his father in Delhi. “It’s too much. I have not slept for two days, having a client meeting tomorrow, have to complete a presentation, my V.P. is annoyed, and I am working alone in my office”. The next morning at 0640 hrs, Gupta was found in the parking lot next to his apartment building and was declared dead.

Back home in India, not long ago, the pressure of handling a continuous stream of customers claimed the life of an SBI officer from Andhra Pradesh. The demonetisation drive took a severe toll on bank employees’ health, about 10 bankers reportedly succumbing to exhaustion and stress.

In one case, in an internal meeting, the victim was publicly humiliated by his superiors and was termed as an “underperformer”. The man got depressed to such an extent that in his suicide note, he mentioned that his body must be “fed to the dogs”, depicting the dog-like existence he suffered due to job stress. In another note, a 53-year-old bank employee said that banks are “reeling with severe staff shortage”. The tragic list is long.

Challenge of change

The Banking industry has traditionally operated in a moderate domain for decades. For about 20-25 years now, banks have been going through enormous changes in style and structure. The banking sector presents several symptoms of this evolution, such as mergers, digitalisation, outsourcing, job insecurity, increasing competition from private sector banks, and multifunctional tasks, leaving a mark on the working conditions and daily lives of bank employees.

The best time to work in a bank has clearly passed, as the outlook is stressfully daring. Job stress, in the new banking format, is now at critical levels, showing injurious physical and psychological signs on employees, hurting the organisational performance too. At least, three out of five bank executives describe their job as “extremely stressful”.

Work overload

Why do problems and conflicts which earlier had the backing of organisational protests and demonstrations, now lead to the medical practitioners and counsellors? Is work more demanding and traumatic than any time before?

Employees cite unrealistic demands and deadlines, technology overload, under-recruitment, unfair geographical transfers, imbalance of deploying the staff to various departments/branches as the main causes. The Bankers whisper that it is damaging their business, as they lose ‘cream’ staff and are faced with an increase in absenteeism, and also ‘presenteeism’ where workers stay for long hours without being productive.

Role of management

There is no such thing as a stress-free job. Though this can be related to individual’s personality, perceptions, and mindset, it is not uncommon that it raises its head as a result of insults, jealousy due to the attention is given to one peer by the boss and neglecting the other.

Though some employees bring work-related issues home and take family problems to work, most employees suffer from mild to acute stress. Workplace stress is found to be “leading cause of depression” in the developing countries, especially in India.

Remember, a healthy employee is a productive employee. Stress endured by one employee can affect other employees. As the purpose of the HR management is to retain a satisfied workforce, they should be unbiased and capable of identifying “overloaded employee”, “unclear employee” and “underutilised employee”. Has HR failed to identify the right man for the right job?

Often, the high-achievers don’t confide in a junior, as they may be looked down upon. A colleague at the same level may be a threat to their position, and confessing in a senior could mean their job is at risk.

Failure to establish a good mutual rapport with co-workers can be due to aggressive management style, bullying, lack of understanding and leadership, manager often finding faults in your work and so on.

An inability to relax or take a break can result in burnout. When an employee does not take any holidays for a long time, it is a worrying sign. Is the HR listening?

Family bonding

Personal issues like divorce, hostile family environment, financial hardships, and personal health problems all cause stress, and insipid family relationship makes you internally weak. Keeping family in harmony while climbing the corporate ladder may slow down the journey, but life will be balanced and meaningful. To address the work-life imbalance, take to some hobbies.

There is also a stigma attached to reaching out to a counselor. Being open to sharing problems with others or seeking professional support is helpful too.

Even parents today are zooming in only on “studies”. They don’t appraise their offspring that life has ups and downs, leaving them inept of handling setbacks. A moderate dose of stress is desired, as it keeps one alert, else complacency sets in.

Banks are, on paper, making a commitment to tackling workplace stress. But, are these just cosmetic initiatives used to paint over the real issues?


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