Managing stress and burn-out in bank staff (3) “Quitters never win, and winners never quit”

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

Dear readers, after reading various hidden signs of burnout and stress, I am sure most of them are familiar to you. After recognizing such signs, they should not be swept under the carpet. People risk is one of the four factors that impact on operational risks leading to losses to every institution. Success in managing and preventing stress and burnout will depend on the culture in the organization. Stress and burnout should be seen as helpful information to guide action, not as weakness in individuals. A culture of openness and understanding, rather than of blame and criticism, is essential.

Human Capital is critical to every organization

Human capital is an intangible asset or quality not listed on a company’s balance sheet. It can be classified as the economic value of a worker’s experience and skills. This includes assets like education, training, intelligence, skills, health, and other things employers value such as loyalty and punctuality.

Human capital is important because it is perceived to increase productivity and thus profitability. So the more a company invests in its employees (i.e., in their education and training), the more productive and profitable it could be.

 Massive Global Layoffs

Banks are laying off workers across the globe as revenue declines throughout the sector. According to reports, banks have announced nearly 60,000 job cuts so far this year, with most of the layoffs happening in Europe, especially in Germany. According to year-to-date company filings and labor union disclosures compiled by Bloomberg, banks have announced that they are cutting 58,200 jobs so far this year. The biggest layoffs are in Europe, where 52,424 jobs, or 90% of the total layoffs, are being slashed, as the European banking sector continues to struggle with profitability. Moreover, 2,769 workers in North America are being let go, as are 2,487 in the Middle East and Africa and 513 in the Asia Pacific region.

The European banking sector has long faced calls for consolidation as banks struggle to generate profits. Two leading German banks — Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank — have attempted a merger, but it fell through early this year, resulting in the pair independently announcing major layoffs.

Responding to stress

The typical response from employers to stress at work has been to blame the victim of stress, rather than its cause. Increasingly, it is being recognized that employers have a duty, to ensure that employees do not become ill. It is also in their long-term economic interests to prevent stress, since it is likely to lead to high staff turnover, an increase in sick leaves, early retirement, increased stress in those staff still at work, reduced work performance, increased rate of accidents, and reduced customer satisfaction.

Good employment practice includes assessing the risk of stress amongst employees. This involves looking for pressures at work which could cause high and long-lasting levels of stress, deciding who might be harmed by these, deciding whether you are doing enough to prevent that harm and finally taking bold measures to manage it.

People Risk Assessment

Dear manager, have you done any risk assessment in work-related stress? In our generic Operational Risk Assessments, the concentration is usually about the number of queries given to the employee, attendance, losses created, whether loss has been retrieved or not. There is hardly any mention of any stress-related risk. It is about time we re-examine the little things that managers place in one basket and label as “emotional issues.” In the “Health and Safety Executive” (HSE) Journal of 17th March 2018, a manager tried a risk assessment on work-related stress in a small business environment, and discovered some root causes of the employees’ stressors. He talked to members of staff to listen to their concerns and opinions about stress in the workplace.  He then wrote down who could be harmed by the hazards and how to control them. These were the highlights:

  • Identification: Demands made by the organization: End of year reports by Accountants, End of quarter/End of year results for Sales Executives, Dealing with difficult clients during implementation of new products and services.
  • What can be done about it: Understanding what work-related stress is and what can cause it. Responding to a pattern of increased absence due to work-related stress, Checking fit notes, and talking to employees, Looking for signs of stress in employees.
  • Further Action to take: Meeting with staff and clients to agree timings, etc for projects, Monitoring workloads, Planning.

Giving support: he concluded that Managers need to be trained on identifying stress-related issues in the work environment. Having ownership of staff issues in one’s department empowers managers and supervisors to be more caring of their team members.

  • Training managers in spotting early signs of stress.
  • Providing details of counselling services for staff.
  • Staff can talk to supervisors or managers if they are feeling

stressed at work.

  • Staff are supported on return to work after a period off with

work-related stress

Personal Coping Techniques for managing stress and burnout

As a bank staff, training helps you to prevent stress through:

  • Becoming aware of the signs of stress
  • Using this to interrupt behaviour patterns when the stress reaction is just beginning. Stress usually builds up gradually. The more stress builds up, the more difficult it is to deal with.
  • Analyzing the situation and developing an active plan to minimize the stressors
  • Learning skills of active coping and relaxation, developing a lifestyle that creates a buffer against stress.
  • Practicing the above in low stress situations first to maximize chances of early success and boost self-confidence and motivation to continue.

A wide variety of training courses may help in developing active coping techniques—for example, assertiveness, communications skills, time management, problem solving, and effective management.

However, there are many sources of stress that the individual is likely to perceive as outside his or her power to change, such as the structure, management style or culture of the organization. It is important to note that stress management approaches that concentrate on changing the individual without changing the sources of stress are of limited effectiveness, and may be counter-productive by masking these sources.

Dear bank staff, please use the individual approach to develop your people’s skills and confidence to change their situation, not to help them adapt to and accept a stressful situation.

The Role of Modern Banking in Stress Management

The prevention and management of workplace stress requires organizational level interventions, because it is the organization that creates the stress. An approach that is limited to helping those already experiencing stress is analogous to administering sticking plaster on wounds, rather than dealing with the causes of the damage.

Types of interventions: Structural (for example, staffing levels, work schedules, physical environment) to psychological (for example, social support, control over work, participation).

Banking is usually rigid or inflexible but with the coming of digital banking and new roles, working conditions in advanced countries are being adapted to people’s differing physical and mental aptitudes. Some staff are given the opportunity to participate in the design of his/her own work situation, and in the processes of change and development affecting his/her work. Forms of remuneration and the distribution of working hours are taken into account. Closely controlled or restricted work is avoided or limited. The bank work therefore provides opportunities for variety, social contact, and cooperation as well as coherence between different departments. It is imperative that banks make working conditions that create opportunities for personal and professional development.

Key Highlights

Successful interventions in the western world have used training and organizational approaches to increase participation in decision making and problem solving, increase support and feedback and improve communication. Studies reveal that success has been chalked in the following:

  • Those taught skills to mobilize support at work and to participate in problem solving and decision making reported more supportive feedback, feeling more able to cope, and better work team functioning and climate
  • staff facing organizational change who were taught skills of stress management, how to participate in, and control, their work showed a decrease of stress hormone levels.
  • staff taught verbal and non-verbal communication and empathy skills demonstrated reduced staff resignations and sick leave.
  • physically inactive employees undergoing stress management training improved their perceived coping ability and those undergoing aerobic exercise improved their feelings of well-being and decreased their complaints of muscle pain, but also reported reduced job satisfaction.
  • employees undergoing training programmes emphasising one or more aspects of stress management—physiological processes, coping with people or interpersonal awareness processes—showed reductions in depression, anxiety, psychological strain, and emotional exhaustion immediately after the programme.
  • those on long term sickness absence who were referred early to the occupational health department (within two or three months absence) reduced their sickness absence.

Dear manager, success in managing and preventing stress will depend on the culture in the organization. Stress should be seen as helpful information to guide action, not as weakness in individuals. A culture of openness and understanding, rather than of blame and criticism, is essential. Building this type of culture requires active leadership and role models from the top of the organization, the development and implementation of a stress policy throughout the organization, and systems to identify problems early and to review and improve the strategies developed to address them. I wish you all a less-stressful banking 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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