A financial career

The Indian bank employee is constantly stressed with unrealistic targets, toxic work environments, and steadily declining mental health

A financial career

For many years of my early life, a visit to the bank was like Stephen Leacock’s short story, ‘My Financial Career’. The bank with its tellers, cashiers, snooty bank managers et al, truly intimidated me. It was a place of serious business where lives could be shaped. The acceptance or refusal of a loan could alter destinies, alleviate or prolong troubles, rekindle or dash hopes. Bank managers too were revered folk and a career in the banking system was aspirational for the masses. But a lot has changed for this group of professionals. The forward march of growing financial inclusion has meant the popping up of hundreds of bank branches across the country. And with it, has come the onslaught of relentless work pressures, sales targets, and unforgiving work schedules. Except for the top job at PSBs or private banks, the majority of the staff are overworked, undertrained, and constantly stressed.

It’s quite routine for me to receive calls from the managers and senior staff of my various banks. If you have any savings accruing, briskly comes the call about new investment schemes. Phone the manager for some information or advice, pat comes the advice to put money into flexi-FDs. A recent incident of a bank manager harassing me with multiple calls, texts, and WhatsApp messages, all within an hour’s time, got me irritable but also thinking. As I complied with the lady’s wishes (before curtly informing her that such behaviour is unbecoming of a bank manager), I couldn’t deny the sheer desperation in her endeavours. It’s normal for bank employees now to request, persuade, even plead with customers to “help” them out by investing in a scheme or opening a new account. Bank officials are more salespersons today than banking professionals, selling everything from government policies to mutual funds and insurance, that has been mounted on their usual work responsibilities. There are about 1.54 million bank employees in India, divided equally between public and private banks, and include staff in payment and small finance banks. There are an additional 95,000 employees in Regional Rural Banks (RRB).

As I brooded over the plight of the hapless banker, I also recalled the viral video from June last year, of a senior employee abusing and screaming at his juniors over a virtual call. A quick search throws up alarming statistics. Not only are banking employees extremely stressed, there is also a growing incidence of suicides among them. A steady stream of incidents of bank employees resorting to death by suicide due to work pressure have been surfacing from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Assam, Kerala, and others. After the suicide of a woman banking professional in 2021, the Kerala Human Rights Commission ordered a probe into “stressful work conditions” of bank staff.

More banks mushrooming everywhere may have eased access to financial tools, but it has also thrust unrealistic KRAs (key result areas) on the employees. News reports abound of bank staff being called into work on holidays and weekends to meet targets. The sector is further hit by a high attrition rate because frankly, who would want to work in a toxic environment, and therefore, job jumps happen easily in lieu of meagre pay hikes. According to a study by recruitment company, TeamLease, frontline attrition continues at 30-40 per cent with almost every major private bank witnessing surging employee churn. The report added that employment in the BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) sector is under “tremendous pressure”. At an event last year, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das also commented on the high attrition at private sector banks and mentioned that the central bank was closely monitoring the issue.

There has been a growing clamour for a 5-day work week for bank employees. The government’s nod was anticipated ahead of the model code of conduct (MCC), but may now come in post-Lok Sabha elections. At present, both private and public sector banks work on the first and third Saturdays of the month. But given greater digitisation, the 5-day work week has a strong case. Working hours though may be increased by 45 minutes to accommodate the new work regime. In some other good news, government bank employees are also scheduled to get a 17 per cent rise in salaries after the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) and bank unions signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the 12th bipartite settlement in December 2023. Hiring in the banking sector will still require ramping up and training of the workforce will be non-negotiable to relieve the pressure on current employees. And while banks must make earnings and sales, the management can’t ignore the mental and physical health of the employee.

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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