Alberta Quarcoopome’s thoughts: MANAGING STRESS AND BURN-OUT IN BANK STAFF (1)

RISK WATCH with Alberta Quarcoopome: Obstacles can be blessings in disguise!
Alberta Quarcoopome

“For Alibaba, employees that share common values and same organizational culture are our most valuable assets.” – Jack Ma

Dear readers, this article was first published in November, 2019. I still find it very relevant especially in this pandemic era, which has brought its own trouble to bank executives who have to prove themselves to their shareholders.

During our CEIBS (Chinese Europe International Business School) WELA study tour of the ALIBABA headquarters in China in June 2019, we had the opportunity to learn new ideas and global trends which are impacting seriously on the financial services industry. One noticeable value of the conglomerate is: “customer first, employee second, then shareholders”.

These days one finds various new levels of stress and burn-out taking over several employers and employees within the financial services industry in Ghana. Sometimes the feeling is like watching a tsunami creeping along a coastline knowing it can just end your life in an instant, and yet not knowing how to fight it. This creeping menace is the intrusive technological feat called the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the digital banking phase aided by Artificial Intelligence. Why should this be a worry to bank staff? They are being called upon to double their efforts or get laid off and be replaced by machines. The high expectations are also being fueled by the recent sanitization of the banking sector, leaving thousands of employees with job losses. This threat seems to be having a toll on some employees’ well-being and performance at work. Stress and burn-out eventually has a negative effect on the bank’s bottom-line. How are such people managing their conditions?

Definition of Stress and Burn-out

Working too hard is now recognized as an occupational phenomenon, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The agency, which guides many health providers and organizations, now includes “burnout” in its International Classification of Diseases Handbook. The agency described “burnout” as a syndrome resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

According to the WHO, doctors can issue a diagnosis of burnout if a patient exhibits three symptoms: feeling depleted of energy or exhausted; feeling mentally distanced from or cynical about one’s job; and problems getting one’s job done successfully. The WHO notes that burnout is to be used specifically “in the occupational context” and that it “should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Stress has also been defined in different ways over the years. Originally, it was coceived of as “pressure from the environment”, then as “strain within the person”.  The generally accepted definition today is one of interaction between the situation and the individual. It is the psychological and physical state that results when the resources of the individual are not sufficient to cope with the demands and pressures of the situation. Thus, stress is more likely in some situations than others and in some individuals than others. Stress can undermine the achievement of goals, both for individuals and for organizations. It is therefore imperative that risk management should include a watch out to identify these people risks.


Thirty years ago, working in banking looked glamourous but like every other occupation it had its own stresses. In recent years, with customers now more financially saavy and globally oriented, expectations from bankers have changed and the need to perform has become more apparent as profit margins are getting thinner, with robots now assisting in customer service, credit analysis and transaction monitoring to take fast decisions.

Dear Readers, one again, I will refer to typical examples of real-life cases across the globe. Any similarity in names and events are purely coincidental:

The Early Morning Family Rush

Young parents do not benefit from family breakfast at table these days. Good schools are far from home so little kids are pulled out of bed at early as 4.30am, bathed and dressed up before 6.00pm. Eating together at table is now a luxury. Breakfast and lunch are hurriedly packed together as kids scramble into the family car, still feeling sleepy.

“ Have you finished your homework?” asks Daddy

“No I couldn’t. I didn’t understand it.” replied Junior.

“When did you reach home last night? Am I the only person who should cook, wash and bathe the children? Why can’t you check their homework for once? I am tired” retorted Mummy. I am sure you know how the rest of the conversation will end.

After dropping the kids at school, Daddy looks at the time. It is 7.00am! On reaching the next intersection, his heart missed a bit! Another monster in the form of long-winding slow-moving traffic looms ahead! When will he reach the office? A staff meeting is scheduled for 7.30am to discuss the branch’s new products to be launched. He is also a joint key-holder and co-custodian of the vault. The stress continues.

The Sales Staff and their Targets

Musings from a Sales Executive: “Today is 31st December. My end-of-year target has not been met! I wish God will send me a miracle investor today. These days it is not about bonus but rather keeping my job”!

Investment has become a sensitive issue for the general public, especially from the simple masses who have lost funds or have most of their funds locked up in collapsed financial institutions. Some are not comfortable sending monies to the towns to be invested in big banks they are unfamiliar with. Meeting sales target is not an easy task.

The banking halls are getting emptier by the day. Who wants to enter any banking hall, when the bank’s mobile apps have been made available to every Tom, Dick and Harry to make banking easier? Who wants to queue for small funds? All utilities are now paid using the mobile connectivity features. Every transaction is charged by the bank so why the fuss? Everything, or rather, most transactions are done on-line.

The Executives’ Headaches

Middle and Senior Executives also face their share of stress and burn-out. Too many visits to the clinic may result in rumour-mongering among the grape-vine specialists.

Listen to some gossipers in the office:  “Is he alright?” “The Board is stressing him with unnecessary pressure to accede to their unwanted and unsolicited advice to effect some changes. I wonder if he has the stamina to keep up with the tall order. It is now telling on him. hmmm”

You know stress can cause hypertension and daibeaties. Mergers and acquisitions come with their attendant integration problems which take a while to settle. Blending various work cultures into a newly acquired one takes years to assimilate. How can you manage all these people to fall in line? Some old wine-skins can accommodate new wine, but some will definitely burst. Of course, it depends on how the “pouring of the wine” is done. There are several thousands of millennials in employment these days, but some managers feel threatened by their youthful enthusiasm. Listen to some musings from one top executive:

“How can you justify their continued stay on the job with so much inexperience, and yet so much potential”?

“How do I lay off some older staff without being tagged an executioner? Their lawyers will be waiting to sue. The “Against” people will be armed to the teeth”.

“The constant integration of banking software with the fintech products is another financial hurdle to climb. Advancement in technology is not cheap. Getting rid of human beings at this fast rate is eating into my soul and hurting my sensitivities and yet I need to let them go if my bank is to survive the competition. The stress is now catching up with me. Too many familiar people trying to contact me for all sorts of favours!”

Dear Executive, please pause and relax. Just give yourself a break

Machines Replacing Humans in Operations

Some old banks used to process hundreds of thousands of cheques daily on behalf of their customers. The “Clearing” departments of such banks were manned by a large number of staff who run long shifts and close very late into the night to ensure customers’ cheques are processed in time to meet the mandatory clearing days. Thanks to digital banking, the usage of cheques has reduced drastically, with the likelihood of the system being extinct within the next 5 years or even less. What happens to the staff currently performing these roles? They also see the signs as their work diminishes by the day. Mobile money transfers and digital banking has brought variety into the payment system options for both individual and business operations. Instant receipt of funds without going to the bank has made convenience a top of the list priority, over charges.

How about A1 usage in credit analysis, robots’ gradual entry into customer service centers, call centers, account opening and so on? In advanced systems, A1 is tracking customer information and analyzing and approving basic customer requests within minutes. After all, the data used is reliable. This is just a tip of the fourth revolution iceberg which is approaching fast.

Food for Thought

Dear bankers instead of feeling stressful, how are you preparing to meet the mountains of pressure and the  ‘obstacles’ on your journey? Risk management has always used both hard facts as well as qualitative material to predict and plan against any potential losses. Stress and burn-out fall under the people risk category.  Next week we shall look at a research study that reveals various signs of burn-out among workers that Managers should be aware of, and work on as part of the organizations’ risk management strategy. Afterall, according to WHO, doctors can issue a diagnosis of burnout if a patient exhibits certain symptoms in the occupational environment.



Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations ethics and fraud.


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Tel: +233-0244333051/+233-0244611343

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