David Leithead, managing director of Michael Page Banking & Financial Services, discusses why financial services organisations need to nurture their employees’ specialist skills

David Leithead, managing director of Michael Page Banking & Financial Services
David Leithead, managing director of Michael Page Banking & Financial Services

As a recruiter, we know that there’s a huge appetite for specialist skills amongst employers. Not only do they give companies the means to innovate, but they can also help to give them a competitive edge which is essential in the economic recovery. Financial services organisations in particular are increasingly looking for new hires with very specific skill-sets, such as the ability to navigate new compliance or risk management agendas. Specialist skills are in demand, the question is, are businesses making the most of them?

We recently surveyed 2,000 professionals across the UK to find out how they are using their specialist skills, and it seems that once these skilled individuals join an employer, they are often forced to take on a more generalist role with extra tasks on top of their main remit. Our research found that UK professionals are now spending at least 10 hours a week, the equivalent of 65 days a year, on activities outside of their core role. As a result, half of the financial services workers we spoke to now consider themselves to be a generalist and one in three feel that this is having a negative impact on productivity at work. The mantra of ‘doing more with less’ may be necessary in the current economic climate but it is becoming increasingly clear that this cannot continue as a long-term strategy; for organisations and individuals.

In difficult times, most employees are willing to go the extra mile and take on additional work, but as the market improves, this goodwill is unlikely to last and they may soon become frustrated and disengaged. The risk that employers face is that when employees feel undervalued and overwhelmed, it doesn’t take a lot of additional pressure to tip the balance and make them more open to new job opportunities. In fact, 77 per cent of the financial services professionals we surveyed said that they were either actively looking for or open to hearing about new job ideas. Organisations cannot be complacent about this and must look at ways to capitalise on their workforce’s specialist skills in order to retain key talent. So what can be done?

Consider lateral moves
Recognising that employees may have certain skills which could be better applied in another part of the business is an important consideration for businesses and their people. In fact, lateral moves should be communicated for what they are; an opportunity for an individual to broaden their business exposure, develop their range of skills and get prepared for more senior roles. The latter is of particular importance; rather than concentrating on moving up the career ladder, people need to recognise that lateral moves across the business can often lead to a promotion just as quickly.

Offer training and development
Businesses should consider training and development initiatives that will help to nurture and expand employees’ specialist skill-sets. This is important as over half (54%) of the financial services workers that we surveyed felt their employer could be doing more to develop their specialist skills. At the same time, if employees are having to take on a more generalist role, giving them relevant training on these tasks will help them to see that additional tasks are part of their ongoing career development. This way, rather than feeling frustrated, they will be more motivated to carry out these additional duties, knowing they will be recognised and rewarded for them.

Listen to employees
Effective communication is key to nurturing employees’ specialist skills. Businesses need to regularly invite their employees to input on where they see gaps or opportunities for their skills to be applied and act on these conversations as soon as they can. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday demands of the business but in time both organisations and individuals can lose sight of what a person’s role should actually entail. Regularly listening to employees can help identify the skills they have and where they can be used in the business. Open conversations can also unearth employee frustration and ensure that any concerns over their changing remit can be met head on, before talent walks out the door.

Create a support structure
Providing employees with a decent support structure can help to ensure that they are not overwhelmed by extra responsibilities such as administrative tasks and financial management, and enable them to get on with the role they were specifically hired for.

Spreading the workforce too thinly stands to have severe implications in the long-run. Instead, businesses really need to nurture their employees’ specialist skills and give them the opportunity to excel in their chosen field. This must start at the point of recruitment, and continue throughout an individual’s career.

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