Working in a service industry in times like this is a great challenge. With the nationwide lockdown and the Government authorities preaching social distancing, the morale of employees who have been working as normal times is indeed at its ebb.
With Banks amongst others being declared as “essential services”, the bank employees have a real task cut out. They are surely open to cross infections and are susceptible despite the precautions advised and being taken. No one voluntarily would perhaps be willing to expose himself or herself to a potential health threat. The individual is affected, entire family is affected in case of any infections. This implies that whoever is working has been doing so half-heartedly and always apprehensive of the obvious threat.
Morale during challenge
This is the time that the morale of the employees has to be very high. Conducive environment needs to be created to facilitate working without any fear of being cross infected. How do you make the employees get up and look forward to another day at the office, under these trying circumstances, particularly in a service sector where there is a likelihood of servicing the crowd? Unless the front line operational staff are high on enthusiasm and morale, it will surely reflect on their performance leading to customer grievances. With apprehensions on both sides of the counter, tempers do fly high and frictions are completely the norm. However, to the credit of the operational staff, it can be said that they are doing a yeoman service despite the challenges.
All these boils down to effective employee engagement. It is only through quality engagements that the management can ensure a highly motivated operational staff leading to quality service. Employee engagements are high in some of the private sector enterprises but in a public sector, there certainly seems to be a scope for improvement. Employee Engagements in a public sector have always taken a backseat. It is expected that the employees be self-motivated and tune themselves towards rendering the highest quality of service despite not being happy themselves. Only a happy mind can spread happiness around! The operational staff at the PSBs are expected to spread fragrance around without themselves being provided with a perfume!
Adding to the challenges is the target for loans under COVID-19. The pressure being exerted on the branches for fast-tracking the loans is enormous. In some cases, the business leaders have been ruthless. It is a fact that needs to be always kept in mind that the success of any programme drawn up on the boards depends upon the execution and the branches are where these plans have to be executed to be successful. This entails that the branches have to put in their best foot forward and a low morale is an impediment. Forceful executions may adversely affect the asset quality with passage of time.
Business figures are fine but there can always be a story behind these figures. There has to be a very high level of understanding and acceptance between the top management and the operational level staff for any successful venture.
It is in this background, that the employee engagements assume importance. In PSBs, these engagements too have a strict business agenda. There are no informal engagements that are aimed towards ascertaining the well-being and sharpening the agility of the operational staff. Most of the times, there is not even an acknowledgement of the good work rendered as it is considered only as what is expected is done.
Pending demands to be addressed
The fact that the operational staff are also human with feelings and emotions seem to have been forgotten. Somehow, the small mistakes that could be committed in the pressure of work are not viewed as bonafide mistakes but lent a malafide intention. It is a situation of “do it, you are doomed and not do it you are doomed as well”.
No one spares some time to the feelings of the family of the operational level staff in a PSB. Working in a PSB now appears to be of much more pressure than working in some Private Sector Banks. There is no set mechanism for employee engagements as this is not on the priority list of the top management for they are oblivious to such initiatives. Of late, though, there seems to have been some talks revolving around this and this in itself is encouraging.
While the Government has showered upon all sections of the society bountiful gifts and sops, the delay in the wage revision has been worrisome and annoying. A just demand for a salary hike is kept pending inordinately while the foot is tight on the accelerator to drive business and implement the social measures. This is the time to ease some pressure off the branches. Some concrete steps have been taken no doubt – like, opening and strengthening the back offices, loan processing centres, engaging recovery and seizure agents etc., but all these still involve the active participation of the branches. These cannot be independent of the branches.
The general feeling at a branch now is that do what is told. If the emphasis is on recovery, then do it ignoring all other facets of business, if the emphasis shifts to CASA, do it forget others. The branches cannot really multi-task and do different things simultaneously because they are overburdened and are definitely not enthused.
To harness the latent potential, it is only the employee-engagement initiatives that can help. Keep the morale high and ensure wonders happen. Now, it is all about wondering why something has not happened!
Measures for employee engagement in PSBs
Some of the employee-friendly measures that could be thought of in PSBs could be:
- Establishing a connection with the operational staff by the Regional or Zonal Management
- Facilitate and not impose the accomplishment of business targets
- Reduce the staff strength at Regional/Zonal Office levels and strengthen the same at the branches
- Place someone with sufficiently senior level who can take decisions at the branches and ensure he/she works with the branch rather than mere monitor
- Video conferencing with the operational staff once a week – even for 15 minutes, listening to them and sorting out their grievances expeditiously. It may be relating to delay in passing of their genuine claims, delay in sanction of their loans, not having been able to go on leave for a long time etc.
- Specifying a free time to the operational staff at specified timings left to the discretion of the branches to energize themselves and get back to work.
- This may sound funny – but there have to be specified places where the operational staff can vent their feelings so that the negativity flows out. Like dart throwing, scribbling on vacant identified spaces, etc. Once the pent up feelings are brought outside, it becomes easy to handle work, customers and the pressure.
Employee engagements could be by way of:
- Sanctioning special leave either on birthdays or anniversary dates (one during a year)
- Greetings sent to the employees’ residence and family
- Acknowledging the role of the family in employees’ productivity at the workplace
- Employee Felicitations with family being invited
- Sharing success stories on Banks’ various platforms
- Fast-tracking any pending issues of the operational staff
- Compulsory sanction of leave of one day in a month, if the concerned staff has not had a leave.
- On-Line training programmes during the office hours itself on products, processes and marketing
- A simple good morning message from the Regional/Zonal Head to every staff member at the branches
- Employee of the month recognition and awards branch-wise and out of the nominations, the employee of the Region or the Zone to be chosen and recognized/rewarded.
- Breakfast meeting with the branch team during the RH/Zonal Head’s visit.
There can be so many effective employee engagements that will boost the morale of the operational staff at the branches and infuse enthusiasm and confidence in them in putting their best foot forward. A motivated team is the best asset any organization can think of, in its march to greatness.
Last but not the least, the greatest gift the employees of the PSBs could get is the finalization and inking of the Bipartite Settlement that has been pending for very nearly 3 years now. The very mention of a bipartite settlement brings sarcasm to the fore of every employee.
Effective employee engagements are the keys that would provide answers to all the lingering questions and ensure a responsible and proactive involvement of the operational staff in all the business goals. Employee Engagements will work where coercion and threats fail and to a much better impact.
About the Author
Raghunandan V J is a banker with 30 years of experience in a leading public sector bank. He had served as head of south India of the retail wing of the bank. He holds MCom and an MBA in HR. He is also a Certified Associate of Indian Institute of Bankers.
Currently, Raghunandan is working as Assistant Professor with the role of Associate Dean at Manipal Global Academy of BFSI. He has over 10 years of experience in training banking professionals.