Financial leaders today face a pivotal moment. Most responded to the COVID-19 pandemic without the luxury of time to consider implications on longer-term sustainability. Leaders now face operational and organizational decisions with profound implications for more than six million Americans who were employed in the finance and insurance sectors prior to the outbreak—and for society at large.1 The choices they make today will define the industry’s approach for years to come, with a generational impact on how it cares for its workforce.
MOST POPULAR INSIGHTS
1. What every CEO should know about generative AI
2. Staying ahead: How the best CEOs continually improve performance
3. The future of wealth and growth hangs in the balance
4. ESG momentum: Seven reported traits that set organizations apart
5. The State of Organizations 2023: Ten shifts transforming organizations
The focus to date has been to provide essential services with sufficient attention to quality, customer experience, and risk control, all while caring for employees. These objectives are already interacting in nonobvious ways. For example, maintaining or reopening branch locations requires balancing uncertain disease propagation with customer needs. Ensuring high-quality service to customers in distress can press against the psychological well-being of even remote employees, especially contact-center staff. Working at home can complicate performance management. And losing the workplace as a great equalizer of employees of differing backgrounds also exposes underlying inequalities, raising questions on how to handle equity and fairness. The potential for significant additional change remains, happening rapidly and in unpredictable ways depending on factors like disease trajectory, government and regulatory moves, and the economy.
Given the dynamic, varied, and ongoing nature of the crisis, traditional HR decision making and support needs to be directly connected to all planning efforts. CEO and board-level commitment to the role of HR in navigating the crisis must remain firm. Success requires a working model that intimately links workforce-management processes to broader operational decision making, for both immediate implementation and emerging from the crisis. HR should be a strategic partner in the “nerve center” crisis-response team (which nearly all financial institutions established weeks ago) and also any “plan-ahead team” working to get ahead of the crisis.
This will enable the workforce and HR to adjust to potential changes in environment, across various time horizons and geographies, and down to the most granular levels of city and even building, floor, and individual employees.
We expect four types of actions will help financial institutions best respond to the workforce challenges ahead. Companies should commit to their principles on employee well-being, introduce ways of working that will endure beyond the crisis, re-imagine performance management and incentives, and maintain cultural hallmarks threatened by the pandemic.
Commit to guiding principles on employee well-being
As banks begin to distill what lessons they can from their initial response to the COVID-19 crisis, they will also begin reshaping their business model and operations. The tremendous uncertainty that remains about the months and years ahead will continue to strain both the physical and psychological well-being of bank employees. Bank leaders will face sharp choices reflecting their commitment to any number of guiding principles. Principles may include the following:
Put health and safety first. Most important, banks should continue to take the stance of prioritizing employee well-being. Companies will need to energize campaigns on physical and mental health at a level of intensity that very few have matched before. This includes, for example, wellness check-ins and virtual mental-health gatherings with experts or even expanded healthcare coverage.
Apply care more broadly than ever, beyond your immediate employees. Banks are considering extending support beyond individual employees to the full ecosystem, including employees’ families and contractors in the workforce. This might include, for example, expanding mental-health benefits to help with COVID-19-induced stress or job-placement programs for significant others who are now unemployed. Moreover, in this context the too-often ill-defined scope of corporate social responsibility can be sharpened to invest in communities that are important to employees.
Engage with radical empathy. A number of institutions are finding innovative ways for team members to communicate directly with their leaders. For example, some are using “pulse” surveys (short, quick, two- to three-question surveys pushed to an employee’s work phone) for colleagues to easily share how they’re feeling. Others have set up a rhythm by which a member of the senior management or operating team speaks to each employee and team individually.Provide compl