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The Financial Sector Needs to Get Employees Back in the Flow

By Mark Williams, Senior VP, People First

Despite the great success of financial services in the UK, productivity remains a problem. The sector suffers from the modern British affliction of consistently low productivity. 

On one calculation, the UK financial sector suffered from six consecutive quarters of decline ten years ago and has remained flat ever since. 

Low productivity in financial services is a topic serious enough to warrant a report by the consultancy and services giant PwC, published last year. This makes clear that pressure on cost-income ratios and the striving for greater productivity has led to offshoring, automation and headcount reduction.

After analysing its survey results, PwC identified areas where financial firms are focusing their efforts to boost productivity, which include Better understanding the workforce and Bringing an agile mindset to the mainstream. Some firms also seek an organisational structure “that breaks down traditional silos and consists of multidisciplinary teams with end-to-end responsibility”.

Employees need clear goals, immediate feedback and the right balance between their abilities and tasks.

A far more savvy approach to employee engagement is emerging

It’s clear from this that many financial firms understand that increased productivity requires them to address the workforce in a much more sophisticated way. They grasp there is a limit to what automation and job-rationalisation can achieve. 

Amid all the concerns about structures, however, there is one factor that financial firms share with all other organisations – they are more productive when employees find themselves working easily, swiftly, collaboratively and without distraction, towards goals they fully understand. This is what is meant by being in the flow. Staff feel fully engaged, more productive, more purposeful, happier and lose track of time. 

The productivity gains of employees in the flow

If this sounds too airy-fairy for the financial sector, think again. More engaged employees make for more productive businesses. Gallup’s 2017 State of Global workforce Report , for example, found that engaged teams were 17 per cent more productive and experienced 41 per cent less absenteeism.

One of the difficulties when dealing with human beings is that they are individuals. People experience flow differently. Psychologists have shown that getting successfully into the flow is only achieved when the degree of challenge matches the skills of the employee and they feel they have access to all the support and tools they need. Employees need clear goals, immediate feedback and the right balance between their abilities and tasks. For any organisation this requires real-time information about employees, which includes how they are feeling.  

engaged teams were 17 per cent more productive and experienced 41 per cent less absenteeism.

HR software is moving employees into the flow

It’s here that advanced HR tools offer new transformative capabilities. Software built around the science of flow helps people get into the zone as often as possible and records, monitors and contextualises their engagement. It goes far beyond more efficient time management and supervision and way beyond annual employee engagement surveys. 

Employees, can for example, use a chatbot via their smartphones, to record their current mood, providing managers with critical up-to-date information about their level of engagement. Managers can then see each member of their team plotted against a graphical flow chart, giving them real-time insights into team morale. 

It may seem like a chore, but these types of tools enhance the individual needs of the employee, helping them understand what makes them tick at work, and encourages regular discussions between them and their manager. Ultimately this knowledge feeds collaboration that allows the employee to spend more time in the flow.

If necessary, the software will trigger temporary blocks for non-urgent emails, giving staff the head-space they need to really lose themselves in their work. If an employee falls out of the flow, their manager will know straight away. This represents a huge departure from a time when managers had little idea about employee disengagement until it was too late. This way problems can be identified and resolved far more quickly. 

Scheduled, informed and regular check-ins boost productivity

The scheduling of frequent informal check-ins to discuss the employee’s mindset as well as their performance and future goals is essential in this. It ensures a manager addresses the difficulties and optimises performance.  

It is a question of aligning the employee and the organisation, so they work towards the same desired outcome. Alignment is important because all of us want a challenge to avoid boredom, but none of us want to experience constant stress. Again, the balance between the two will depend on the individual. 

An important element in this is allowing employees to develop their skills. Advanced HR software will provide a range of attractive options for skills upgrades, training and education that are relevant to the individual in real time. Some employees have to be prompted to upgrade their skills, while others are deeply frustrated if they feel they have no opportunities to develop. 


Global competition makes productivity a burning topic in the financial sector. Yet as much as automation and artificial intelligence will shape the future, businesses must now consider how to nurture and optimise their most vital resource through more sophisticated HR technology. 

The productivity gap can only be overcome by getting more employees into the flow more often. To do that, all financial organisations must use all the tools available to them. 


  • Editorial Director of the The Fintech Times

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