Stress and workload have both skyrocketed during COVID-19

Resilience expert says it is time for those in the banking and finance industry to reset

Stress and workload have both skyrocketed during COVID-19

Recent data has revealed a whopping 50% increase in workload for those in the banking and finance industry during the pandemic, with leaders observing a 60% increase in stress. CEO of Springfox Stuart Taylor says this is unsustainable and could lead to serious ramifications over the coming months. MPA spoke with Taylor about the ways leaders and staff can work together to strike a healthier work/life balance and reduce stress.

Stress levels have surged in banking.

The Australian Workforce Response to COVID-19 report surveyed 536 respondents from May to June this year across a variety of roles and industries. It found that not only has there been a marked discrepancy in the level of leadership trust as perceived by staff and their leaders across the workforce more broadly, but that those in the banking, finance and insurance industry have seen a sizeable increase in both workload and stress.

“It was great to be doing industry benchmarking in this study and I don’t think there was any surprise that some industries, more than others, stood out in terms of workload increases,” says Taylor.

While those in the banking and finance industry found themselves doing overtime to help borrowers adjust to government regulation and navigate loan hardship options, the sheer increase in workload and stress experienced as a result of this is ultimately unsustainable, he says, and could lead to mental health issues over the coming months.

“There needs to be a reset,” he says, adding that those in the banking and finance industry need to rethink their purpose and goals.

“At the moment, there’s a whole bunch of leaders and staff out there that are trying to achieve more than is physically possible to achieve in this new set up.”

“It’s not a productive for the organisation let alone for the people.”

Rethinking work in the new normal.

For Australian workers, a hybrid model has become the new normal, whereby many are still working from home and others are back in the office under strict and highly regulated conditions. Others too are doing a mixture of this, working some days at the office and others at home, or on a rotating “on again, off again” roster within their team.

This requires rethinking the way we work and the ettique around modes of communication, says Taylor.

It also requires leaders to foster a high-trust, collaborative work culture.

“You can set whatever goals you’d like to set – unless people feel like they are safe and in an environment where their leader is going to look out for them, it’s just not a place where that person’s going to be able to thrive and contribute.”

Establishing a daily practice.

Leaders and staff alike can both make a massive difference to the level of stress they experience by establishing a daily practice of resilience, says Taylor.

He adds that while many of us took the daily commute out of our lives during the pandemic, a good portion of us chose to fill this extra hour or two with more work.

His suggestion is to use this time to do things that will help us maintain better mental and physical health and thus increase our resilience, such as regular exercise, daily meditation and getting our sleep patterns in order. Developing an attitude of optimistic realism is also important, whereby you acknowledge when a situation is tough but affirm that things will get better.

Leaders must invest in their own resilience and wellbeing in order to be able to look after their staff, he adds.

“You can’t actually establish a high trust culture unless you yourself are in a good space.”

“It’s not just about looking after your people, it’s also about looking after yourself.”

Developing a high-trust culture.

It is also very important for leaders to create safe working environments to combat the level of insecurity in the world at the moment, says Taylor.

When the level of trust is low in a workplace it can come with some serious consequences, not only for the business but for the mental health of its people.

“A low trust environment is incredibility destructive for staff in terms of leading to withdrawal, disengagement and the killing of motivation.”

He says it can also lead to mental illness, absenteeism and burnout – things that were already increasing before the pandemic hit.

Unless leaders are able to stabilise the ship by creating better levels of trust, these things could potentially go through the roof during the coming months.

While the efforts sparked by many leaders in wave one of the pandemic were around connection, Springfox has identified that this is only one small part of the overall picture.

“Integrity, connection, compassion, purpose and steadiness, as well as putting those into action make up the six elements of trust.”

“So, exploring trust in a more holistic way is really important.”