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How Banks Can Engage and Reward Their Workforce in the New Normal

With banking and finance industry leaders revamping work processes in the new normal, how can we continue to engage our workforce and reward our workforce?


In the new normal, leaders in the banking and finance industry were forced to revamp the way employees work. Remote working became the norm. Virtual conferences replaced in-person meetings and appearing “online” was akin to showing up for work. 

As people ease into a new way of working, concerns over productivity and performance have gradually diminished. Banks in Singapore are now even eyeing permanent telecommuting for certain roles.

If the technological infrastructure is the hardware of a workforce, the employees themselves must be the software. For the banks, the challenge lies in reaching everyone across different cities and countries, as well as having to comply with financial regulations. 

How financial leaders respond could define the industry’s future approach. Let’s look at how banks can implement better people policies that can better engage, reward and recognise employees.

Introduce more agile ways of working

By adopting a more agile approach to working, financial institutions could see improved performance down the road.

For example, small, cross-functional teams with the autonomy to make decisions can help to tackle the temporary needs of the organisation, such as business-continuity operations, spikes in demand, or identifying risks in newly set up business processes in response to the pandemic.

When people are given autonomy, they are held accountable for their actions and take ownership of their work. These feelings are linked to an increase in their commitment to the company, staff morale and ultimately, performance.

This means challenging hierarchy and evaluating all positions in a bank from highest to lowest, which is so crucial for a bank’s digital transformation journey. Doing this can help to promote business growth and give employees a sense of empowerment. 

If not already implemented, banks and financial institutions can create a clear cadence of meetings, facilitated by technology, in place of in-person sessions. A simple solution is a calendar that allows staff and their managers to set up automated weekly check-ins, or for a project team to schedule periodic progress updates — whether the employee is working remotely or in the office.

Leaders in the banking and finance sector can also use an HR system with a visual dashboard to communicate priorities to various teams and individual employees. These dashboards can also keep track of human resource metrics, analyse data, and more.

Recognise, reward, and motivate

It is natural for employees to feel good when they are recognised for their efforts and rewarded accordingly, which keeps them motivated, engaged, and productive. High engagement rates lead to profitability.

For organisations as large and global as a bank, the difficulty often lies in its scale. This is where a professional employee engagement programme comes in. 

BI WORLDWIDE (BIW) worked with one of the world’s largest banks to introduce an employee reward and recognition programme for 235,000 employees across 52 countries and in 10 languages. The goal: bring the company’s core values to life and maintain high employee engagement, while complying with regulations.

The challenges were threefold: 

  1. Keeping it flexible to be adapted to local cultural requirements.
  2. Achieving senior stakeholder buy-in.
  3. Consolidating and streamlining more than 75 different regional or country-specific programmes.

The solution was a series of design conferences across the globe to engage with the local teams, where BIW shared best practices in reward and recognition. 

The payoff was worth it, as BIW keenly understood the language nuances and local customs, which informed the eventual programme structure. The programme has achieved high levels of workforce engagement across the globe with two million recognitions being sent within three years. Local stakeholders also felt personally involved in it.

This type of employee recognition strategy could be the “glue” that helps to engage banking executives and financial services staff alike. Even for traditionally self-driven financial advisors and leaders, a system that recognises, rewards and motivates could be their raison d’etre, especially when the going gets tough.

Foster belonging virtually

When physical interactions are restricted, and people are isolated during WFH, it’s even more critical to foster belonging in an organisation to keep employees engaged.

For example, enterprise resource groups can help to create social connections. By grouping like-minded individuals with a shared goal or business objective together, this not only builds bonds but a support network and guidance, especially for new hires.

Where interactions at the water cooler are no longer widely possible, these touchpoints can be recreated virtually, through team games such as quiz nights, personal sharing sessions through video call, or online team meetings with lunch delivered to the door.

An employee recognition programme can serve this function too. For another of BIW’s banking clients, the Daymaker programme, incorporated into the bank's internal mobile app, allocates annual reward points for each employee, to be distributed out to peers. There’s nothing like extending a reward — be it a gift or an experience — to colleagues that expresses that they are doing great work as essential team members. The programme continues to scale across the world with 27,000 participants on the platform, and more than one million redemptions. 

Manage WFH performance differently

With everyone working from home, it is useful to break down KPIs into smaller milestones, so it’s easier to track progress transparently. Achievable weekly goals can motivate staff better too. 

HR professionals in the finance sector know that WFH complicates performance management, especially for leaders who are so used to having “face time” with their staff. The trick is to encourage a higher level of communication — not by increasing the frequency, quantity and duration of meetings, but through establishing a feedback channel, amongst other things.

With everyone working behind virtual screens, it will also be beneficial to conduct systematic employee performance audits, using employee audit checklists or templates to manage and assess the great work done by your team. Regular pulse surveys would also be useful to check on employee well-being since always-on lines of communication tend to become stressors and could adversely impact on employees’ mental health.

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