Boosting morale in difficult times
By Anna Devine
Outflows, the threat of passive funds, increased scrutiny of the sector and a perception that asset management is held in low regard can all lead to widespread low morale.
At the CFA UK Professionalism Conference last week, 70 per cent of the audience gave the industry low value for money during one of its polls.
Seb Dovey, managing partner at Scorpio Partnership, says he thought the poll was “terrifying” and raised concerns about morale in the industry.
Nick Kambitsis, client director at work consultant group Nicholson McBride, believes morale has improved since the financial crisis but engagement by staff can still be affected by change.
Negative events can “absolutely” impact morale, he says, especially as asset management is undergoing changes, with recent market turbulence signalling tough times ahead.
In its latest annual report Aberdeen, which has been battered by continuous net outflows for almost three years, says: “Morale has been impacted by flows but we continue to focus on our team-based approach.
“Senior staff, who have been through the cycles, play an important role in reassuring junior members of the team.”
A spokesperson for Aberdeen adds that the firm is also focused on “having good internal communications and continuously striving to improve them”.
It is important for firms to tackle low morale, which can lead to “lower work performance, less engagement, less focus and therefore less productivity”, says Mr Kambitsis.
He says that to turn around low morale, “the first thing [asset managers] can do is empathise with where people are at”.
“It’s important to acknowledge or name the emotion” people might feel, whether it is frustration or anger, he says.
The next thing is to refocus minds on the purpose and vision of the organisation.
“Go back to the vision, go back to the goals and refocus people,” Mr Kambitsis says.
Enhancing team spirit and cohesion can be useful and might involve celebrating recent successes of both individuals and the wider team.
Shaking up the structure a little can also help, he says.
“Let people work with new people and create new leaders,” says Mr Kambitsis.
Providing positive feedback, externally and internally, can remind people and the group of their strengths.
He also advises companies to “put positive people to the front: give them airtime”.
As staff will continue to seek personal and career development, it is important to “keep the one to ones going”.
Steve Martin, director of human resources consultancy Influence at Work, says the biggest mistake companies can make is to throw money at the issue.
“It turns out that it’s a very costly and largely ineffective approach,” he says.
“What [people] look for beyond money and financial incentives is a sense of purpose and unity… a value beyond the higher salary.”
He advises looking at other ways of remotivating employees, such as giving them more autonomy.
“Can you enable them to become an expert or master at something?” he asks.
Communication is also important, adds Mr Martin.
Mr Kambitsis agrees but says it needs to be done at a team as well as organisational level. Otherwise “staff can view that quite cynically”.
“The role is definitely that of a line manager,” he adds.
Mr Martin says: “What perhaps is most important is a sense of unity in times of trouble.
“We look, at that point, to an individual who can create a sense of ‘we’. That’s when parties are more inclined to collaborate.”
Team turnover can be disorientating because of the need to build new relationships. But it can also be a positive thing.
“A good team leader can re-energise the team. New joiners can bring new areas of knowledge and expertise. Give someone the role of mentoring them for a few months. You can do stuff to change people’s mindsets,” says Mr Kambitsis.
Mr Martin says that in the end there is “rarely a single solution”. Typically it takes the combination of lots of small steps, he adds.
Rosalie Wallis, Director of wealth and asset management recruitment at BRUIN Financial, argues that despite “notable job cuts at some of the larger houses” morale is generally good in asset management.
New team mergers have been viewed positively “as a new strategic direction for the business”, she says.
“We have seen several up-skilling exercises across the sector, with increases in total compensation packages for new hires in the form of larger bonus potential.
“Morale has also been boosted by a more receptive attitude to flexible working, both for future hires and existing employees,” says Ms Wallis.
She adds: “[There is also] a genuine shift towards investing in talent through learning and development training, particularly in women returning to work and diversity as a whole.”