Burnout In Bankers

Burnout In Bankers

The cost of employee burnout to businesses is enormous, and includes decreased individual and team productivity. It leaves the employees highly stressed and the resulting attitude sabotages projects.

Though not uncommon in the other industries, Burnout in the banking industry is strikingly overwhelming. Burnout is often viewed as a subprime crisis, and as such, no one ever sees it coming. Even though employees experience Burnout, they are not aware of the extent to which it would adversely affect them. Alexandra Mitchell, a career banker turned academic, opines that burnouts peak among the top bankers. And it has also been made evident by research that Asian bankers experience an elongated burnout zone from ‘somewhat burnout’ to ‘total burnout’. However, the specific reasons for burnout among the Indian bankers remain unexamined.

Originally introduced by two psychologists, Herbert Freudenberger and Christina Maslach, Burnout does not differentiate between age, sex, colour, creed, industry, and nationality. It is hazardous, and can be contagious. And when left unchecked, it can impair individual health, human relationships, and organisational effectiveness. 


Burnout is a state characterised by physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, and when left unmanaged, can cause major breakdown among employees. And according to the World Health Organisation, Burnout is a legitimate medical condition. The main symptoms are: - lack of energy, low vitality, and loss of sharpness in thinking, decreased work engagement, difficulty in concentrating, reduced productivity, irritability, sleep difficulties, anxiety, dysphoria, recurring sickness, and absenteeism. Burnout can often be misconstrued as “being lazy, uncooperative, negative.” Burnout can strike bankers since they withstand too many pressures with too little time. The following are the common types of banker burnout victims and the classification is contextualised to bankers. (Borrowed from Nickell & Freudenberger) 

• Super bankers: Who want to do everything themselves because no one else can or will, and they have never let anyone down 

• Workaholics: Who are driven to meet unreasonable demands (either selfincurred or assigned by others) placed on them. 

• Burned-out Samaritans: Who are always giving to others while receiving little help or appreciation in return. 

• Mismatched bankers: Who do their jobs well but do not like what they are doing. 

• Midcareer coasters: Who may once have been high performers but have no enthusiasm left in them.


The cost of Burnout 


The cost of employee Burnout to businesses is enormous, and includes decreased individual and team productivity. It leaves the employees highly stressed and the resulting attitude sabotages projects. In response to work burnout and to mitigate the associated costs to businesses, many global companies have introduced appropriate training programmes to improve their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.


The need to make use of Mindfulness 


Mindfulness may appear wishywashy, but is a tested tool to overcome Burnout. Recent times have witnessed a “definite momentum change” with several global corporates employing mindfulness. Learning & Development leaders must give adequate attention to mindfulness because it makes their employees more effective. Mindfulness increases memory capacity, focus, effective decision making, and robust strategy formulation. It trains employees to use their prefrontal cortex, which allows them to make more measured responses in such a way that it adds value and reduces dissonance. Further, it allows employees to transition a period of change more easily, more congruently, and helps them in coping with the rollercoaster of workplace stress. 


Organisations are also making use of mindfulness to tackle stress and burnout, and at the same time, to increase employee performance. Google is one such example that offers mindfulness to its employees. Barclays, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and PwC have implemented Mindfulness programmes for their employees to overcome Burnout and improve mental faculties and workplace productivity. The length and breadth of practice research points towards implementing mindfulness. 


A couple of years ago, top bankers in UK have been advised to address the well-being of employees after an alarming report mentioned that several bank staff believed that their job was bringing down their health. In another study, a major chunk of the employees concurred that their firm has a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. Employees of toobig-to-fail banks reported that their well-being and quality of life was disturbed. This is the time for banks in India to underscore the value of implementing mindfulness interventions.


In view of the above, there is a compelling case for senior leaders of banks to empower their employees to overcome burnout and must keep the following pointers in their mind: 


1. Leaders of banks need to take the issue of Burnout into cognisance rather than brushing them aside, and consciously address this psychological aspect 


2. Learning & Development leaders of banks must make room for a minimum 2-day mindfulness intervention as a mandatory requirement for all employees 


3. Specifically, bankers who are in the domain of strategic business operations must undergo mindfulness intervention, and experience a roller coaster ride with long and extended working hours. 


4. Top management teams involved in strategic decision-making must have the benefit of mindfulness. 


5. It must be acknowledged that mindfulness was developed as a systematic school of thought in the field of mental health, and hence qualified professionals must be engaged to implement these interventions. 


6. Leaders’ role in creating a positive work culture such as managing work processes cannot be undermined, so that individuals and groups are neither overloaded not underloaded. Old fashioned practices such as eleventh-hour planning, endless meetings without meticulous agenda, unnecessary longer hours of working which hampers work-life balance must be consciously avoided. 


7. To the maximum extent possible, policies should be in place to allow employee flexibility to work at the pace and manner that will ensure personal satisfaction while maintaining the much-needed productivity.

Dr. K N Viswanatham is a Senior Faculty Member at the State Bank Institute of Leadership, Kolkata. He comes with an experience of more than two decades in teaching, training, consulting, and research. Dr. Viswanatham has a Master's degree in Psychology from Andhra University, and an M. Phil & PhD in Clinical Psychology from NIMHANS. He can be reached on


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