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How financial institutions can manage talent in uncertain times

May 11, 2021

With COVID-19, we’ve found ourselves in unique — and uncertain — times.

Because your people are so critical to helping your financial institution achieve your goals and objectives, one of the keys to navigating uncertainty is through effective talent management. Now is the time to pause, reflect and strategize.

With a proactive and intentional planning process, your institution can identify what you need to do to address today’s unique workplace issues, retain the best talent and overcome the challenges of a growing worker shortage.

The worker shortage is growing worse

Pre-pandemic, 10,000 baby boomers were retiring every day, and there weren’t enough workers to replace them. That hasn’t changed during the pandemic. In fact, the worker shortage has increased.

Between February 2020 and February 2021, 2.3 million women and 1.8 million men left the workforce. Causes range from stress to burnout to an inability to balance work and family. Many are caring for children or aging parents.

Another unexpected contributor to the worker shortage? The expansion and extension of unemployment benefits. Right now, it may be more expensive for someone to return to work if they have to pay for childcare than to stay at home on unemployment and care for their children. Other individuals have underlying health conditions that make it difficult to return to work.

These worker shortage causes underscore the importance of retaining your people. How can you remain competitive? How can you differentiate your institution with both recruits and customers?

The pandemic has changed employee expectations

Retention starts with recognizing the shifts that have happened over the pandemic. Employees have a desire to maintain the current flexibility in their working arrangements. Because many performed well remotely and were able to achieve a better balance between work and family, there’s an expectation they will be able to continue working remotely.

Some will prefer a hybrid schedule, others will want to work remote full-time and others will want to be back in the office full-time. Is your institution open to all three options? If not, you face the possibility of losing employees to businesses that offer remote work. To retain talent, you must bridge the gap between employer and employee expectations.

Then there’s the competition. You know they’re going after your star performers. Employees are willing to stay but ready to go, especially when offered interesting and robust compensation packages and working arrangements that meet their needs.

So, what can you do to differentiate your institution as an employer of choice, and what are you willing to do to keep your most valuable employees? Let’s look at some best practices.

Employee retention strategy: 10 practices to consider

  • Job sharing: Consider whether you can use or expand job sharing with part-time employees who would prefer flexible work schedules, such as three days on, two days off.
  • Promotion opportunities: Development and mentoring goes a long way to helping employees visualize their future in your organization.
  • Job enrichment: This is a great opportunity for employees with an interest in doing more to become a project lead or work on special projects. If you challenge people, they will rise to the occasion.
  • Job sculpting: One practice that isn’t highly utilized is job sculpting, aka creating or redefining a job around an employee’s strengths. This is an opportunity to pay attention to strengths of each employee and allow them to be their best by using those strengths.
  • Financial incentives: Money isn’t the primary motivator for everyone, but it is for some. In key roles, make sure you have appropriate financial incentives and bonus structures in place.
  • Sabbaticals: Sabbaticals are rare because they’re generally unpaid and most employees can’t afford to take unpaid time off. For employees involved in community service or charity work, employers can offer a unique paid opportunity that’s very motivating for employees while fulfilling the institution’s mission to support their communities.
  • Additional paid time off: This is the most popular and sought-after benefit. Consider where you can add more employee time off. Can you add sick days into a general PTO bank? What’s your PTO policy, and how does it compare to competitors?
  • Compressed work week: This can be very valuable for those who would like an extra day off each week. The 40-hour work week is compressed into four days, thus providing the employee with a day off each week. This is a no-cost benefit for employers and a high-value benefit for some employees seeking such an arrangement.
  • Transition to part time: Transitioning to part-time can be great for those easing into retirement. It’s a phenomenal opportunity to maintain institutional knowledge and skills while training and mentoring employees who may fill the position in the future.
  • Benefits package: What’s new and different, and what can you offer at low or no cost? Look into optional benefits such as cancer insurance, critical illness insurance, accident insurance or pet insurance. While your employees may pay the full premium, it may be at a reduced rate because you may negotiate group rates on some benefits.

If you do consider benefits changes, survey your employees to ensure what you’re considering is of high value to them. For example, you could spend the time and effort into adding and publicizing a unique benefit only to have few employees enroll in it. Surveying employees on the likelihood of enrolling in a new benefit will make the effort worthwhile.

Creating a remote work strategy going forward

The 2020 Global Work-From-Home Experience survey found that 88% of full-time office-based employees are working at home during the pandemic and are content to work remotely on a full-time basis moving forward. About 50% of employees would consider not returning to their jobs if remote work was not offered after COVID-19. Full-time workers report being happier and less stressed, having better work-life balance and feeling more trusted by their organization.

There are many reasons why. The flexibility, lack of a commute, ability to live anywhere (especially near family) and increased productivity all factor in.

Of course, it comes with challenges, too. Communication, isolation, boundaries, technology, visibility, and focus can all be negatives. While some find working from home delivers uninterrupted time to focus, others get distracted by household needs.

When considering which positions and employees may work remote going forward, it’s important to do so strategically. First, determine which positions are eligible to work remote (i.e., non-customer-facing roles). Then determine what percentage of time they can spend working remote. Once you have these nailed down, you can put together guidelines detailing your expectations around availability, work hours and family interruptions.

Another recommendation we have is to create a checklist to determine eligibility for remote work arrangement. Does the position meet with customers? Does it require access to office equipment? (You don’t want employees going to the library to print loan documents.) Does the position have duties that cannot be performed remotely? Don’t forget to include eligibility parameters around individual employees when it comes to their performance and attendance.

Four ways to incorporate talent planning

In addition to implementing the above practices around retention, consider ways you can begin the talent planning process. This will go a long way toward meeting your financial institution’s future needs, mitigating the risk of losing key employees and developing rock-star talent internally. Here are four recommendations:

1. Start succession planning

Succession planning is an opportunity to retain key employees, but to be successful, you must be proactive and intentional. Performing a talent assessment now can help you identify high-potential, high-performing employees that show the agility, curiosity and innovation needed to take on key roles in the future. Evaluate their skillsets and competencies as well as how they align with the future state of your organization. What will your institution look like three years from now, and what skills will you need then?

2. Identify key employees and positions

What if one of your best individuals left the organization? What would be the reason they left? What would you do to plug the gap? Who is waiting in the wings to step in?

If you identify the positions and employees that are key to your operations now, you can help plan for possible attrition, mitigate risk around it and, frankly, prevent them from working for your competition.

3. Evaluate your coaching and mentoring program

This is a great opportunity for you to pair individuals to help employees be more successful. The mentor can help them overcome the obstacles preventing them from achieving success. It strengthens the foundation on which people are developing, accelerates growth, builds confidence and maturity, and helps them achieve their professional aspirations.

4. Create career blueprints

Before they even sign on with your organization, many candidates ask about career paths. You need to show them the opportunity and benefit of working for you through a strong career pathing process that provides multiple options. For example, if someone comes in on the retail side, how could they move into the commercial banking side? What knowledge, skills and abilities will they need to develop to reach each step of that career path?

Ready to become an employer of choice?

Becoming an employer of choice improves your marketplace reputation, delivers multiple candidates for each job, reduces turnover, and enhances a positive culture.

Wipfli can help you become an employer of choice. Our talent management consultants take a strategic and relationship-based approach that enables leadership to consider talent in a more comprehensive manner — supporting unique challenges, culture and business cycles. We assist with recruitment and selection, compensation, talent assessment, succession management, and more. Click here to learn more.

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Julia A. Johnson
Director, Organizational Performance
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Barbara Low, SPHR, RODC
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