Impact of COVID-19 on staffs of banks and financial institutions; The least talked subject despite being listed as essential service
The Government of Nepal has kept bank and financial institution under essential services to be operated during the lockdown. The notice regarding the same was also published in the Nepal gazette. As per the directive of Nepal Rastra Bank, all banks must provide service with one-third of their staff present. Health workers are doing their best during this period and at the same time staffs of Bank and financial institutions are also working relentlessly to provide financial services. The contribution of employees in this pandemic despite being psychologically and physically hit hard is laudable.
Teller staffs and other frontline workers of the operation department are at high risk as they have to directly interact with customers. However, they are working with an ebullient smile on their faces. Having said that, the safety of these employees has remained a global challenge. In India, one of the employees of the Industrial Development Bank of India of the Malad branch died due to coronavirus on May 1, 2020. Also, five employees of Bank of Baroda tested positive for Covid-19. Staffs are scared of the spread of Covid-19 infecting them and their families.
The response of Global Banking fraternity
In this scenario, some novel attempts to tackle the pandemic have surfaced within the banking sector. Wells Fargo, an American multinational financial services company has imposed new social distancing guidelines where the floor is marked so customers shall know where to stand in teller lines, chair for the customer is moved six feet apart and distance among customers and employees is maximized. Meanwhile, Axis Bank from India has come up with novel ideas such as psychological counseling of staff, virtual meditation, online learning modules, and informal virtual team catch-ups to boost the morale of employees during the pandemic.
The Canara Bank in Mumbai and SBI bank in India have announced Rupees 20 lakh compensation for their employees in case of death due to Covid-19. Contrary to this, in Nepal, all banks have not implemented insurance coverage to their employees and about compensation that is the far-fetched reality to talk about. The government of Nepal in the budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 has declared Rs500,000 insurance coverage for every health worker with other facilities as well. However, the government of Nepal is silent towards the frontline staff of the bank and financial institutions.
Where do we stand?
In our context, branches in remote areas are having a problem with safety mechanisms. Staffs are abide to travel office by walk or if possible from their own vehicle. This situation has created fear within the staff in the travel office. Even staffs are not well equipped with face shield, mask, hand glove, sanitizer, thermal scanner, and disinfectants. Every staff, as well as the customer, should go for a screening test before entering the branch and the office needs to maintain hygiene. Sadly, this has not been the case.
Another challenge is staff facing salary cut off and layoff. Some of the outsourced staff working in banks have lost their job. The human resource policies of the banking sector in upcoming days might see a sweeping change. Central to this will be the issue of staff layoffs. Will that be on the basis of the staff’s competencies while performing work? Or will be relying on nepotism? Transparent communication should be shown from top-down management in case of making tough decisions. Staff who have just started their career in the banking sector are in dilemma and confuse about their future and some others are stuck in between their career growth. They are abiding to think about their family and their identity in society.
As staff living in rent are completely isolated from the outside environment. In this peak pandemic period of time, they were supposed to be with their family. We can imagine how they are tirelessly working for the organization without socialization. They are also facing trouble from the landlord and other people from society regarding social stigma towards them. Work from home is also another challenge to staff where they have to make a balance between work and personal life from home.
The organization should keep sanitizing hand rub dispensers in a prominent place where staff, as well as customers, can easily get access to wash hands. Desk, chair, floor, and other objects like desktop, telephone, keyboards should be wiped with disinfectant on a regular basis. Wellness check-ins of all staff must be implemented as well as virtual mental-health gatherings with the help of health experts should be done.
The human resource department should come up with innovative policies for the welfare of the employees. They have to bring the capacity building and stress management workshops and training. Employ wellness, physical safety, emotional safety, saving human capital and well-being of employees must be on top priority. Agile workplace and microlearning strategies should be formulated. Supervisors and line managers should communicate with their team members to boost up their confidence and for their emotional well-being.
Michael Kunwar works in 'A' class commercial bank (MBA graduate from King's college)