Perspectives on productivity in the financial sector


Financier Worldwide Magazine

November 2014 Issue

November 2014 Issue

Productivity is a major issue affecting the financial world, particularly as forward-thinking firms look to reverse their reputation for long hours as a measure of employee performance. But financial firms cannot hope to implement intelligent approaches to productivity without having a clear idea of their starting point: how they measure up to others in the sector, and other professional services.

We gathered and analysed over 30,000 management interviews as part of a study of current employee productivity levels. Productivity was measured as ‘time on task’ – the time workers were actively producing outputs that made a tangible contribution to their organisation. Productivity scores were examined across sectors giving those in the financial industry the opportunity to evaluate their own productivity initiatives in context. The results revealed wide disparities of productivity between sectors.

The study showed that the cross-sector average for time on task is 58.8 percent. The financial sector scores marginally below this figure with 57.3 percent. This compares to other sectors such as education on 63 percent.

With the financial sector scoring below the cross-industry average, there is clear potential for improvement, particularly as 42.7 percent of the financial sector’s time is not spent on work-related tasks.

A key finding of the study was that sectors with the highest levels of productivity also performed strongly in the measurements of ‘happiness at work’. Broad correlations between happiness at work and productivity are recognised by numerous sources. Some governments have even started to compile ‘happiness’ and wellbeing indices, in recognition of this correlation. But by understanding the individual components of happiness at work, and their own company’s performance within those areas, financial firms can build their productivity strategies much more effectively.

There are a number of approaches that can be taken to improve happiness at work and drive productivity.

Driver 1: Effort. It’s impossible to be productive without clear goals, without precise and well-articulated objectives that lead to those goals and without addressing problems that arise on the way. That means the ability to raise issues and have others help solve them too.

Constructive feedback helps to improve contribution even more while personal appreciation goes a long way to boosting productivity. Interestingly, negative feedback which is poorly given doubles sick leave according to our data. And increased sick leave of course affects productivity levels.

Driver 2: Short-term motivation. Good organisations encourage motivation by helping partners and staff own issues and take responsibility. And they do that at a level that fits with an individual’s skills, strengths and expertise levels. Financiers are encouraged to work on what they are good at, to prioritise what they do and to build efficiencies into their work.

Driver 3: How well you fit into a firm. Performance and happiness at work are both boosted when people feel they fit within their organisational culture. Believing that you are in the wrong job, feeling disconnected from the values of your workplace or disliking your colleagues is dispiriting and de-energising. And all of that feels much worse if decisions in your workplace feel unfair.

Good firms can address this by being as transparent as possible about why decisions are made, explaining why resources are allocated in the way they are, and making sure that their approach is as equitable as possible.

Driver 4: Long-term engagement. This is about commitment, the long-term engagement you have with what you do and your organisation. Having to work hard in a job you feel stuck in is energy draining at best and associated with higher illness at worst.

This tells firms that they need to regularly and convincingly communicate their corporate strategy, along with tangible proof of how that strategy is being implemented and the contribution it is making – to the bottom line, but also to the whole working environment and ethos.

Driver 5: Self-belief. Confidence is the gateway to productivity and our data shows that a primary indicator of confidence is that things get done. We also found that things get done better, faster or more economically because people are confident of the outcome.

For financial firms to develop effective productivity initiatives they need to understand how they compare with other organisations in their sector. By using these benchmarks as a platform, tailored strategies can be developed that rise above the unambitious, but are also likely to be achievable.


Jessica Pryce-Jones is joint founder and partner of the iOpener Institute for People & Performance. She can be contacted on +44 (0)1865 511522 or by email:

© Financier Worldwide


Jessica Pryce-Jones

iOpener Institute for People & Performance

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