How big banks can repair their tarnished image and keep workers from burning out

The industry needs a reset.
The industry needs a reset.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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The financial services industry is still having trouble shaking its tarnished reputation. Between some questionable banking practices, the 2008 financial crisis, and billion dollar bailouts, it’s no wonder why senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are retaliating against them in support of the working class. Recently, Wells Fargo settled a $110 million lawsuit after customers claimed they opened fake accounts without their consent, and former president Obama received criticism for accepting $400,000 from a Wall Street firm to speak after bailing out the industry years ago. It’s now been nine years since the American financial crisis, yet new research by my firm and the workforce management company Kronos finds that almost two-thirds of employees in the financial services sector are still impacted by it. Furthermore, another study by Makovsky found that 86% of financial executives say that the crisis has had a major effect on the perception of the industry.

Aside from the reputation of the industry, employees who work in banking, insurance, and asset management are suffering from burnout. With two-thirds of those interviewed in our study saying they have sometimes suffered from burnout, there’s no doubt that employees in this industry are a microcosm of what’s happening nationally. Junior bankers in the industry have been known to work seven days a week without overtime, which has limited their personal time, caused burnout, and made them quit. As a result, companies like UBS, Goldman Sachs, and Credit Suisse have limited their weekend work hours.

In order to meet the needs of employees and rebuild the industry reputation, companies need to offer better wages and benefits, encourage management transparency, give more to charity, and promote flexibility. In our study, we asked financial services employees what makes an attractive employer, and 69% said wages and 68% said benefits. To no surprise, we discovered that one of the top reasons why professionals decide to work in the industry is high wages, but due to increased work hours, they are looking for even higher wages.

Americans today desire more transparency from the government and from companies, especially in this industry. Employees in the industry desire more transparency from management as well. When we asked them how their company could be more transparent, about half said by encouraging straight communication, and a third said by eliminating layers of titles. When you have more transparency, employees trust you more, want to work harder for you, and stay with you longer.

One of the most cost-effective and celebrated ways to rebuild a company’s image is through philanthropic work. Employees want to work for a company that gives back to their community and want to make a positive difference in the world through their job. We found that about half of employees say that they need their company to have a strong philanthropic mission and a fourth say they can do so by giving more charitable donations and offering employees time to volunteer. Employees, especially younger ones, desire meaningful work—they want their daily activities to connect to a greater mission.

In order for the industry to cool workplace burnout, retain employees, and repair their image, flexibility is mandatory. In over a dozen research studies I’ve conducted over the past several years, flexibility has always come up as one of the most important benefits employees of all ages desire. In our most recent survey, 80% of employees say they wish their employer offered flexible or compressed schedules. A third of employees said they actually gave up work-life balance when they chose to work in the financial industry, with a larger percent of Millennials over Boomers responding in that way.

Even despite a tarnished industry reputation, there’s still promise of a great recovery. Nearly three-fourths of employees believe that the industry can recover strongly. With new employment practices and charitable giving, the industry can maintain relevancy and compete for the top talent. If there isn’t an improvement, more employees will depart finance and flock to technology companies instead. More than one-fourth of those surveyed are more interested in working in tech, which is especially true for Gen Z and Millennials. The financial industry can’t afford to lose out on young talent, so they need to make aggressive moves to create a better work culture and support non-profits.