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Gaining workplace equity

Tim Oldman

By Tim Oldman, CEO, Leesman

As the war for talent rages on, the financial sector finds itself fighting on multiple fronts. First and foremost, there is a critical need to modernise and to embrace new technologies. According to McKinsey & Company, legacy financial institutions that fail to evolve digitally could see their profits decline 20-60% by 2025. The global management firm believes that central to this evolution will be “skills in digital technology, artificial intelligence, and automation” as well as “problem-solving, emotional intelligence, resilience, and adaptability”.

Tim Oldman

Tim Oldman

This shift has put finance in fierce competition with the technology sector for both MBA graduates and experts in fields such as robotics and machine learning. Meanwhile, legacy financial organisations face a new threat from smaller, niche providers – often referred to as “fintech” – which are taking advantage of the democratisation of new technologies and satisfying a growing demand for more agile, experience-orientated services.

The margins of advantage, however, are getting thinner. Leesman’s own clients in the banking sector have admitted that global competition in recruitment has become so intense that they are having to identify new ways to differentiate themselves in order to attract and retain the best talent.

One of the fields where this battle is now being waged is in the workplace. The financial sector needs to offer these employees the kind of cutting-edge support and experiential spaces that match both their ambition and their talent. As the finance digitally evolves, its workspaces also need to become more dynamic, agile, and adaptable.

Room for improvement

Leesman’s research – a ten-year programme of analysis that has led to an employee experience benchmark of more than 700,000 responses – raises some serious questions about the financial sector’s progress in this respect. Through our online survey, we identify what employees do in the workplace and then measure how well each of these activities is supported by the physical, virtual and social infrastructures on offer. Our benchmark – the Leesman Index – also considers the impact that the design of a space has on an employee’s overall experience, from their perception of their productivity to their sense of community.

‘Banking, investment, insurance & financial services’ is the biggest respondent group in our index by quite some distance – which says something about the financial sector’s sharpened focus on the workplace as a strategic lever in recent years. Generally, this category fairs well against others too. For example, 65.5% of employees in the finance sector report that their workplace enables them to work productively. In comparison, 63.9% of employees in utilities, oil and gas and only 59.2% of employees in telecommunications feel the same way. Likewise, 61.2% of employees in finance feel that their workplace contributes to a sense of community at work compared with 58.1% in manufacturing and industrial engineering and just 52% in government administration jobs.

Yet a victory lap would be premature. Viewed in isolation, these results suggest that more than one in three people working in the financial sector feel let down by their employers in these fundamental areas.

Things get worse when we look the activities and features of a workplace that are likely to be seen as more conducive to a dynamic environment. Alarmingly, only 38% of employees in finance report satisfaction with the variety of workspaces that their employer offers. And while the data suggests that financial organisations continue to deliver in more traditional areas – the group scores highly when it comes to individual focused work (81.5%) and planned meetings (81.6%) – only 59.6% of finance respondents are satisfied with their capacity for creative thinking in the workplace and only 41.9% are happy with the informal areas and breakout zones available.

New workplace, new me

In their new tech-centric world, financial organisations are turning to agile methods such as sprints and scrums – – a tactic born out of software development that sees individuals get together in short bursts to solve problems and create solutions – with a huge emphasis on working more openly and collaboratively. Often, however, existing workplace design and infrastructure struggle to support this new level of speed and agility.

In 2019, Leesman carried out an analysis of the workplace change projects within our index to understand how organisations, in the financial sector and beyond, are adapting to these new circumstances. The research was drawn from 346 spaces that we have measured in the post-occupancy phase after a workplace relocation or refurbishment.

The bigger picture is clear. Comfortably more than two-thirds of new workplaces score low enough to suggest that they have not maximised their potential, while one in five (19%) has outright failed. But there are lessons deeper within the data for financial organisations, too. Our research reveals that new workplaces feature more variety in the types of workspace they offer. And more mobile employees report greater satisfaction with that variety compared with their sedentary counterparts. For employees that perform a high number of activities and employees in unassigned seating arrangements, variety appears to be a key factor in the workplace experience.

All this means that there is extra pressure on financial organisations to improve the workplace experience for a growing contingent of talent that values choice, independence and agility. If they do not, that same talent has more reason to take their skills to an industry or an employer that will.

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