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Raz Godelnik headshot

How to Engage Bank Employees that Lack Passion for the Job

This post is part of a series on Stakeholder Engagement sponsored by Jurat Software.

Kramer: I was never able to become a banker. Newman: Banker? So you're killing yourself because your dreams of becoming a banker have gone unfulfilled? You-you-you-you can't live without being a banker? Kramer: Yeah, yeah. If I can't be banker, I don't wanna live. Newman: You must be banker. Kramer: MUST be banker.
(Seinfeld, The Ticket – episode no. 4, season 4)

Not all the employees in the banking sector are like Cosmo Kramer. Many of them work in banks for various reasons other than a burning desire to become bankers, which might present a challenge when it comes to employee engagement. But does it actually matter what motivates people to work in a bank in the first place? Does it make a difference if it is a bank we’re talking about or Google, for example, where its founders claim that talented people are attracted to the company because it empowers them to change the world?

These questions came to my mind when I read on Forbes’ CSR Blog a quote of Wells Fargo’s SVP and Creative Director Michele Ronsen. She talked on a panel at the recent Sustainable Brands conference and was quoted saying that “not everyone is looking to work for a fun and innovative company. Some people just want a nine-to-five job with a trusted company.”

She is clearly right about that, but does it really matter when it comes to employee engagement? First, let’s try to make clear what employee engagement is. I like the definition Adam Werbach use on his book ‘Strategy for Sustainability’ – “Employee engagement describes the level of passion and excitement people feel about their work.”

In that sense it doesn’t really matter if you’re working for a “cool” company like Google or Facebook or for a “boring” place like a bank – in both cases engagement is an important element in the effort to increase the level of passion and commitment among employees.

The results of a successful employee engagement strategy are not just happy faces in the workplace. There are endless examples of indicators showing how companies with highly engaged employees outperform other companies in terms of productivity, earnings per share growth rate, employee retention rate and so on. For example, as my colleague Scott Cooney mentioned here couple of months ago, a Gallup study estimates that more than $300 billion in productivity is squandered within the U.S. workforce due to disengaged employees.

Wells Fargo knows that and makes the effort to engage employees (or ‘team members’ as they call them) accordingly. If you’ll look at their last corporate citizenship report (PDF), you will find there many examples of such engagement on professional, financial and personal levels – career development and training, caring about personal financial well-being, supporting a healthy workplace, listening to feedback, encouraging involvement in communities and so on. It seems like the bank is truthful to its motto is that “nothing matters more than our people. They are our competitive advantage,” no matter how many of them just want to punch the clock in a good company.

But don’t get it wrong. Banks like Wells Fargo should not ignore the characteristics of their workforce. As Ronsen mentioned, even those workers who are just interested in a secured 9-5 job, want it to be in a “trusted company.” My guess is that even these employees would prefer to work for a company that has a greater purpose other than maximizing profits and a set of values they can identify with and be proud of.

Not that there’s something wrong with Wells Fargo’s vision “to satisfy all our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially,” but you can see how sustainability can boost it and make it more meaningful for employees. It’s not that sustainability is the only way to build a trustful relationship with employees and increase their commitment to the company, but it’s certainly a good option to consider. Not only does sustainability have a proven record in fostering employee engagement, but it also provides an opportunity to foster the organization’s sustainability efforts – in other words, it’s an opportunity to create a win-win model.

It’s not that Wells Fargo needs a reminder about sustainability. Like many other banks, Wells Fargo is already taking significant steps to embed sustainability into its core business and its culture. Yet, sustainability can play a greater role in their employee engagement strategy, whether it’s on the personal level (Walmart’s Personal Sustainability Project is a good example) or the professional level, encouraging employees for example to explore ideas for new sustainable banking products.

This is a long-term process, but it’s worthwhile. At the end Wells Fargo might find that sustainability can be the element that makes the difference and transform even the employees that aren’t as passionate as Cosmo Kramer on banking into highly engaged employees, no matter if the bank offers them time to play games and free massages or not.

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.


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Raz Godelnik headshotRaz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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