The impact of fear on the financial services workforce

The financial services industry is at an inflection point. New competitors, new ways of working and new generations in the workforce are all making waves. Game-changing technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain are swiftly reaching maturity, causing complex knock-on effects.  

All of this change is creating huge opportunities. It’s also creating huge amounts of fear and anxiety in the workforce.  

Recent research from Accenture shows that the level of fear and anxiety experienced by the financial services industry is much higher than the average in other industries. This is mostly driven by concerns about job loss.  

As you might expect, a fearful workforce does not embrace change or perform to its potential. In the research linked above, 74 percent of 800 surveyed financial services leaders reported that staff inability to change and fear of change due to a poor track record was one of their greatest obstacles.  

The good news is that there are lots of robust insights available to leaders looking to address the fears of the workforce and improve its ability to deal with change. Some of the most powerful of these insights come from neuroscience.   

Improving change management with neuroscience

Neuroscience is a dynamic and exciting multidisciplinary field of study that examines the fundamental properties of the nervous system. It uncovers all sorts of fascinating findings about how our brains work. Many of these findings are of tremendous use for financial services leaders.  

Here, drawn from the work of Hilary Scarlett, are eight steps financial services leaders can take to make the workforce less fearful and better able to deal with change.   

Provide certainty around communication.  

When communication is scarce during change, neuroscience tells us that employees are more likely to freeze or become distracted. Lower this risk by providing ample and accurate information to employees. At a bare minimum, develop, distribute and abide by communication principles. In an uncertain world, employees will be sure they can rely on a communication process. 

Belong to teams and encourage teamwork. 

Teams are more than working groups—they’re fundamental parts of the human experience and major factors in our psychological wellbeing. Encourage teamwork to give employees a sense of identity built around shared goals and regular feedback. This can make a huge difference when supporting employees through change.  

Help employees let go. 

We all have an urge to dwell on the past. Retrospective analysis can be helpful, but taken too far, it becomes unhealthy. Help employees move on from the past and focus on the future. This empowers them to be confident in tackling new challenges.  

Activate the reward network. 

Simply put: it feels good to get good stuff. Neuroscience shows that even small rewards can trigger the release of dopamine, the “feel good hormone,” and that this can help employees perform better. Frequent, public rewards should be part of your change management strategy. 

Be visible and make time for people. 

The simple act of being seen around the office can be surprisingly powerful. Neuroscience shows that humans trust familiar faces. Leaders, if they expect the workforce to trust them, need to make their faces familiar. They should also be mindful of their body language—a worried face sends a message that employees will receive.  

Share knowledge with storytelling and transparency. 

Sharing important information with timely updates using storytelling techniques helps employees connect the content of the message to their own experience. Not only does this grow a group’s feeling of camaraderie, it can also help employees develop their own insights.  

Involve people in the change and listen to what they have to say. 

There are three benefits to paying attention to what those affected by the change have to say about it. First, it helps to build commitment to the organization and to the change. Second, it can increase the quality of decision-making around the change. Finally, if people have a say in change, they are much more likely to support the change. 

Enable insight. 

Employees are much more likely to support change when they understand why it’s happening and what the outcome is likely to be. Creating a safe environment for them to ask and answer questions—and for leaders to feel comfortable when they don’t have all the answers—can make change management much more effective.  

Six simple steps

The breadth of the eight points listed above are indicative of the scope of neuroscience. The brain holds many secrets, so there’s a lot to unpack.  

But that doesn’t mean that putting the research to work needs to be complicated or take a long time. Here are six simple steps you can take right now to improve change management and lower workforce stress.  

  1. Set short-term, achievable goals. This will help employees feel accomplished and boost focus.  
  2. Remind people of past achievementsThis also reminds them that they are capable of tackling difficulties.
  3. Give praise and recognition. These help employees perform by putting them in a positive “toward” state. Praise also lets people know what they have done well and what behaviors to repeat.  
  4. Provide accurate information. This improves certainty. If communicating timely information is difficult, be transparent about the communication process.  
  5. Allow people to reach their own insights. Employees will be much more supportive of change if they can take an active role in shaping the change.  
  6. Conduct mindset workshops. Developing the skills of employees, especially during times of uncertainty, builds confidence and shows that the organization still wants to invest in its people.  

Interested in continuing the conversation to reduce fear and unlock peak performance in the financial services workforce? I would love to hear from you. I can be reached here 

In the next post in this series, we’ll look at how neuroscience can influence workforce learning. 

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