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How to reverse quiet quitting in financial services

Oct 24, 2022

About half of American employees are just … there, according to a new study from Gallup. They’re neither engaged nor disgruntled; they’re just keeping the seats warm.

Coined on TikTok, the term “quiet quitters” quickly captured media outlet attention from the likes of Bloomberg and Harvard Business Review. It refers to employees who do the minimum amount of work required to keep their jobs and are psychologically detached from the organization. Other words to describe them might be “expensive” and “risky.” 

Disengaged employees are costly to keep on the roster. They have higher absenteeism, lower productivity and lower profitability, according to Gallup. When translated into dollars, Forbes calculates that companies lose about a third of a disengaged employee’s annual salary.

Let’s say that again: A third of an employee’s annual salary is wasted, multiplied by 50% of your workforce. On the low end, the cost of disengagement could cost your business millions of dollars in losses on your P&L.

Suddenly, employee engagement isn’t just the responsibility of HR. It has direct financial consequences that put strategy (and innovation plans, and customer service, and succession planning and so on) at risk. The soft skills that before were looked at as “nice to have” are beginning to appear to be a “need to have” when it comes to getting all hands on deck to prioritize employee engagement.

Why is this happening?

Lack of clarity in their role, a connection to the business, opportunities for advancement — those are just some. Not feeling heard or appreciated was another top reason Americans quit their jobs last year, according to a Pew Research Center study. Quantum Workplace investigated quit rates in the banking industry specifically. It found that poor communication was also to blame.

Employees feel undervalued

About a third of finance employees are dissatisfied with their pay, according to a survey conducted by eFinancialCareers. The bigger issue is how that makes them feel: unappreciated.

If pay was the only factor that affected engagement, the solution would be simple. People management would be purely transactional. But employers are asking for more; they want highly engaged workers who are emotionally invested in the workplace and its mission. They want people to care.

To fix this, Gallup’s State of the American Workforce report says to change from a culture of “paycheck” to a culture of “purpose.” Today’s employees, and especially younger workers, want their working hours to matter.

Many workers are motivated by values, mentorship and coaching, collaborative cultures and flexible work schedules, according to reporting by Forbes. Employees want to be recognized for their efforts — but not with more work. They’d rather have some control over their schedules, the pace or location of work.

Leaders and managers can address this by leading with empathy. Managers need to understand what drives their employees at work and at home. When employees feel cared for, they can safely express what they need to do their best work.

And yes, employees want competitive pay. Today’s workers are tuned in to market rates (and possibly their peers’) and they want compensation to be equitable. But they want more than a transaction — and you do, too.

Career paths are unclear

Over two-thirds of banking leaders are extremely concerned about recruitment and retention, according to Wipfli’s 2022 State of Community Banking report, and 74% of banking leaders said talent management was their top strategic concern.

There’s no wonder why. In finance and insurance companies, voluntary turnover was over 18% in 2021, according to Quantum’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. And baby boomers are widening the talent gap, retiring in waves.

Yet most employees don’t see where they fit into the organization’s longer-term plans. Today’s workers don’t understand their opportunities for advancement or how to get there. Even current-day job descriptions are murky. Consider tellers, who often advise accountholders and cross-sell products in addition to their transactional duties. It’s hard to blame employees for “doing the minimum” when what’s expected of them isn’t clear.

Banking leaders should objectively assess the roles they have, along with the skills needed to thrive in each position. Responsibilities should be clear in job descriptions — and consistent with the working experience. If a job requires someone to occasionally stay late to help an accountholder, mention it upfront. Be transparent about what you expect and how performance will be measured. Then, you can hold employees accountable to those standards.

Your strategies and innovation plans need people to implement them. Think about leadership positions that will become vacant someday (or new roles that may be created). Make sure there’s a path for staff to gain the skills and experience to fill those roles. Then, you can put the right people in the right seats — and the right support systems around them.  

There are gaps in communication

One problem can perpetuate another. Poor communication is frustrating on its own, but it also contributes to employees feeling undervalued and untethered to the organization. In fact, Financial Brand suggests current employees may not be aware of job openings you’re desperately trying to fill.  

Quantum says there’s a communication gap between corporate and customer-facing employees. Branch staff feel like they miss out on communication, recognition and developmental opportunities, which contributes to them feeling undervalued. Bank employees don’t care about work because they think you don’t care about them.

Senior leaders and managers can close the gap by being more transparent. When employees know “why” important decisions are made, they’re more likely to have high engagement, says Quantum. Quantum also found a correlation between trust and engagement.

Managers are the main lines of communication — and retention — for most employees. Unfortunately, in Quantum’s research, less than a third of banking employees think their immediate supervisor sets a good example. Employees need good working relationships and genuine connections with a manager or coach to stay motivated, productive and engaged.

How to reverse quiet quitting

Quiet quitting is a trendy way to talk about engagement. It doesn’t matter what you name it, it’s real and it has substantial business consequences.

Address engagement as you would another competitive threat: dead seriously. If you don’t align your growth strategies with your people strategies, they will fail.

Change starts at the top. Everyone, regardless of title, tenure or position, needs to commit to employee engagement. And they need to learn how. Sometimes people management skills feel foreign (even uncomfortable) for employees who are used to working with rates and figures. Supervisors will need help transitioning from “managers” to performance coaches and peer advisors.

An experienced partner like Wipfli can help you upskill managers and leaders. Our organizational performance, transformation and strategy consultants ensure your people strategy supports your ambitions. Learn more about how we can help.

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Anna Kooi, CPA
National Financial Services Industry Leader, Partner
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Michelle Joseph, MBA
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