H.R.D. POLICIES AND PRACTICES IN PUBLIC SECTOR BANKS
V Subramanian, Senior Manager, Andhra Bank
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With great pain, agony and distress, I write this. The public sector banks have of late turned into unfair, exploitative, hostile and unhealthy organizations to their own personnel and this development has taken place especially during the last 7 years. Most of the staff members have begun to feel it is no longer safe to continue in the bank’s service. Many staff are driven to the decision of putting in their papers under VRS or otherwise. It is a pity that many officers are laying down their lives while in service due to the unbearable stress and the ill-treatment at the hands of the management. Where are the public sector banks heading to?
RECRUITMENT AND DEPLOYMENT
There is no scientific manpower planning done in accordance with the business growth, expansion of branch network and the additional types of businesses acquired, products introduced, technological changes taking place, market competition and other factors like superannuation and resignation of staff etc. Again, whatever little done on this front is only an ad hoc measure, meeting the short term needs of the organization that too to a very limited extent.
Most importantly, there is lack of transparency now in this vital area, leading to loss of credibility. This puts a question mark on the future of the public sector banks themselves. How pathetic!
There must be proper vision for the long term which must be followed by meticulous planning and execution of such plans in stages without losing the continuity, thereby ensuring smooth transition from one phase to the next one.
Placement is one area the meaning of which is not known to the managements at present. The management mantra of ‘Right man at the right place’ remains only on paper and is taught only in Staff Training Centres/Colleges. Personnel are given placements haphazardly, solely at the whims and fancies of those at the helm of affairs. Unfortunately, the managements in various banks have not learnt enough lessons from their past mistakes in this regard.
Proximity to those in power and the personal equations based on caste, language, region, religion and the reciprocal favours given/received decide such issues. On the other extreme, those who remain in remote corners or in the loop do not have any kind of access to their top management so as to bring their achievements to their notice, leave alone developing healthy personal relationships with them. This deprives them of their due share in the institution. This is because of bad and unfair transfer policies adopted by most of the banks. As a result, people at a disadvantaged place get stuck there for too long.
It is not uncommon to see that people holding orders of transfer from a remote/undeveloped place could not get relieved for want of a substitute. The management asks the affected staff to find a suitable substitute for themselves. Sounds ridiculous, isn’t it? This is another injustice being witnessed for ages.
Job rotation is a very sensitive and essential feature of modern business organizations. From the point of view of Behavioural Scientists and Management experts, job rotation is very crucial to provide for the emotional needs of all the personnel and to allow them to learn as many varieties of tasks as possible. If done, it will enhance their pride and sense of self accomplishment. Vigilance department also insists upon job rotation to prevent development of vested interests and perpetration of frauds and other malpractices. But who listens?
Job rotation must take place not only within a unit but also across all units – Branches, Zonal Offices, Head Office etc. Not a single person must be retained at one place or one post for more than 3 years. Even before a person completes 2 years in a place/post, another person must be identified and suitably groomed to take his/her seat, after the former completes 3 years. This will ensure that nobody is indispensable in the organization and everybody gets equal opportunity to reach any place and occupy any position, subject to one’s willingness and aptitude.
Personnel working at administrative offices (Zonal Office/Head Office/STC etc.) must be deputed to busy branches for at least 45 days in a year, with not less than 15 days at a stretch.
This will achieve four objectives.
1. They will be exposed to the ground realities and understand the practical problems faced by the branches in all areas.
2. They will develop a pragmatic outlook while dealing with the branches and the customers.
3. They will not exhibit rude and arrogant behavior and will learn to be polite and courteous to their own colleagues working on the field.
4. Most importantly, they will realize and remember that they will also be posted to branches one day and this makes them behave sensibly and responsibly.
TREATING STAFF WITH DUE DIGNITY AND RESPECT
Nowadays, all banks talk constantly about customers’ delight. But what about the delight of their own personnel? Have we heard anyone talking about it in the recent times? The staff members shall not be treated like inanimate objects, with no family and social responsibilities. But in reality, staff are treated as disposable diapers at many places. When confronted, bank managements react violently or prefer to remain tight-lipped on this issue.
It shall never be forgotten that regardless of the type of leadership, staff in public sector banks have always strived hard and contributed their best to take our banking industry to its present glorious position. Staff of public sector banks are no way inferior to the staff of the private sector banks (old generation or new generation ones) and it has been proved beyond doubt time and again. Even our political masters have publicly acknowledged that only because of the public sector characteristic of major Indian Banks, our economy has withstood the turbulence and turmoil witnessed by the American and European banks. We were not affected by the South East Asian crisis (late 1990s) and the Global recession caused by sub-prime crisis originated from USA during the period 2007-09.
Most of the officers in the public sector banks are now performing clerical and sub-staff duties, thereby losing respect in the eyes of the general public. We can see even the branch heads in MMGS III or SMGS IV doing clerical work or counter work every now and then.
They have lost their pride of place enjoyed by them, a few decades ago. Even within their families, because of their inability to live up to the expectations and fulfill the demands of other members, they have fallen down from the high pedestal once they were seated on.
Managers are unable to concentrate fully on business. Lot of their time is wasted on resolving customer complaints and on house-keeping. True, computerization has addressed many problems of the customers and increased the customer satisfaction. But, the risks and responsibilities and the working hours of the bank officers have kept on increasing each year.
New types of frauds are surfacing with each passing day. Many of them could be detected, only after a long delay. Many officers are booked for somebody else’s fault or misdeed after many years. The costly lapse of internal and external inspection and audit officials in this regard is not at all talked about and no punitive action is taken against them.
Officer staff are abused, ill-treated and humiliated at various places, on various occasions, on flimsy grounds. This has now become the order of the day and also an inseparable part of the organizational culture. It is difficult to believe that this phenomenon is not brought to the knowledge of the top management of the individual banks or IBA or RBI or Ministry of Finance by anyone.
The Trade Unions have also miserably failed to protect the fundamental rights of their members. There is no proper institutional machinery on the lines of Administrative Tribunals for bank officers to redress their grievances lawfully. Against this background, very few officers venture to go to courts to obtain a legal remedy.
REST, LEAVE AND HEALTH
Leave for valid and genuine reasons is often denied, even for shorter duration. At many places, staff are compelled to attend office on Sundays and other holidays on the pretext of some urgent work. Recovery Drives and Road Shows are deliberately conducted on Sundays and other holidays. Managers’ Conferences and Review meetings are conducted on Saturday afternoons. Many official functions are arranged and held on Sundays and other holidays. All such things not only deprive the officers of their valuable time, but they do grave injustice to the other members of the officer’s family who look up to the officer for some help, care and physical support at least on such designated holidays. Thus, the whole family gets frustrated and anguished. This is another area where the managements of the public sector banks have earned the displeasure and wrath of their own staff and their families.
On working days too, taking well-deserved breaks for 5 or 10 minutes after every 2 hours of hectic and serious work is viewed with disdain and disapproval. Personnel having conversation with neighbours (colleagues occupying the adjacent seats) in the office are frowned upon, as though they shirk their responsibility, idle away their time in the office and just loiter around, disturbing other serious workers too. But this kind of thinking will develop only in the minds of perverted persons who are ignorant of group dynamics and who consider human beings also as any other machine without any feeling, emotional needs or social pressure.
Personnel are unable to take their lunch or supper at the scheduled time, because of the work pressure, continuous nagging by their bosses and long hours of work. This affects their morale and motivation and it gets reflected in the quality of their output. As another consequence, these officers lose their emotional balance. With their self-confidence either ruined or shattered, their moral ground starts shaking. They lose their concentration in the work and commit mistakes also, without their being aware of it.
It is a big tragedy that the physical and mental health of the officer personnel today has been greatly affected, as compared to their predecessors, a few decades ago. Hypertension, Diabetes, Neurological disorders, Displaced aggression, Impaired vision (eye-sight) and Shortened life span are all the gifts of the present day’s work culture.
People are required to come to the office even when they are ill or someone in their family is seriously ill. They are expected to perform their regular and special duties, without any break. No consideration or leniency is shown to people with personal problems (except physical handicap). Thus, people are treated on an equal footing with senseless machines and domestic animals.
The managements have never attempted to analyze as to why so many officers take pre-mature retirement (VRS) or what are the causes that result in so many officers’ death, while in service.
Answers to these questions require deeper and impartial probe with an open mind and once the answers are found, they will truly be an eye-opener for the managements of the public sector banks. Then, it is hoped, the bank managements will be able to redraw their policies and practices so as to function as a fair and responsible employer in the banking industry.
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Now there seems to be a distinct disconnect between the actual performance and reward in the form of promotion. Several other extraneous factors like relationship with the boss, external influences, caste factor, regionalism, religious affinity, nepotism, political connections etc. greatly decide the promotions given.
Sycophants and ‘Yes men’ move up faster in the organizational hierarchy than others. This seriously undermines the promotion process and it adversely affects the credibility of the system itself.
Some of the other instances of unfairness and injustice found are:
Many people are retained at critical places or given sensitive and important assignments. Yet, they are not given promotions in time. This conveys a bad message that while their services are so important to the bank, they are not important to the bank.
There is total secrecy with regard to the marks secured by the candidates in various areas like performance appraisal, written test and interview. Absence of transparency in this regard puts the entire promotion process under a cloud. We often hear about manipulations at various stages and by various persons/agencies in the promotion process.
If one observes the number of persons promoted from various places, usually the Head Office personnel take a major slice of the cake followed by people at administrative offices and metros. The poor, disadvantaged sections are from rural and semi-urban centres.
Number of promotions at various levels/grades must be in specific proportion to the growth in volume of business, profitability and branch network/number of delivery channels. If we study the past trend, the ratio/percentage of growth in the number of vacancies in the SMGS V and above has been far higher than the ratio/percentage of increase in the number of vacancies in other ranks/grades up to SMGS IV. This has resulted in skewed, lopsided staff disposition leading to frustration and despondency of staff at the lower levels of the banks. It is an unhealthy trend and is certainly not in the larger interests of the state owned banks.
If one looks at the number of promotions made to SMGS V and above during the last 20 years, in relation to the total business growth, they far outweigh the proportionate promotions received by the lower level staff. Even during the worst period of 2001 to 2011 in the annals of the public sector banks, promotions to top slots were never stopped and there is no clear cut road map for the career progression of lower level staff. But, who bothered?
Ideally, the time taken for anyone to get promotion must be 3 to 7 years. It means no one shall be promoted before the completion of 3 years tenure in one particular grade and no one shall be denied promotion beyond 7 years in that grade. Of course, there may be exceptions as far as the maximum period is concerned. But, they shall not constitute more than 10% of the eligible population and they must be for valid and well known reasons only. Where there is openness and transparency, chances of foul play will be very less.
After 10 years in a particular grade/scale, automatic promotion must be given, unless there is prima facie a serious charge of fraud, malpractice, cheating or embezzlement against the staff concerned.
It will be apt to recall the words of Dr. White who said “A badly planned promotion system harms an organization not merely by pushing ahead unqualified persons but also by undermining the morale of the whole group”.
YOUNG VERSUS OLD
It does not fit into any logic or rationale as to why young people with or without professional qualifications are given royal treatment in training, transfers, placements and promotions. They are given prime postings in urban and metro centers and offered prestigious assignments. This makes them derive undue and unfair advantage over others with considerable experience in various spheres of banking. Moreover, young persons without any knowledge of banking – both at macro and micro levels – are directly absorbed at MMGS II level by means of campus recruitment or through routine recruitment process.
Unfortunately, candidates from less known or unknown institutions with lower pedagogic standards and popularity rating in their arena are also employed under this so called ‘professional’ category, without the banks verifying the value of their degrees in the market place.
In contrast, the experienced officers are given a raw deal in every aspect. While their services are requisitioned for all problem-solving activities and crisis management, they are always discriminated against. They are taken for granted and are made to sit late hours almost every day to complete all the routine and critical jobs. They are over-burdened with a lot of responsibilities but an impression is sought to be created in the minds of others that these senior officers are slow, inefficient and irresponsible.
At the same time, no one ever bothers to see youngsters who receive almost equal (sometimes better) pay than their seniors, leaving the office early in the evenings. Similarly, no one ever questions the youngsters when they flatly refuse to work on Sundays and other holidays, whereas the seniors are compelled to work on Sundays and other holidays now and then without any reward or recognition for their extra services. In granting leave too, banks are very liberal to the younger generation, but behave very unfairly and harshly to the seniors. Many of these young officers go on leave as and when they want with total impunity. They don’t even intimate in advance about the duration of their leave/absence. On the other hand, senior officers are either denied leave for genuine reasons or their sanctioned leave is curtailed mercilessly.
It is often noticed that these young officers argue with their seniors and superiors without any regard for their age, position and seniority. Even many legitimate instructions given by their immediate superiors are given scant regard and rejected outright by these youngsters. It is not uncommon to see the seniors taking up and successfully completing the jobs rejected and disowned by their juniors. Yet, the young officers concerned are not put to shame and they are neither punished nor admonished. This emboldens such young officers to repeat what they did.
There is another mistaken notion about the experienced officers. They are viewed as obsolete by the management, whereas their juniors below the age of 32 years are presumed to be tech-savvy, but it is not true in all the cases. There are a good number of tech-savvy people amongst the senior officers, with professional qualifications like MBA, MCA, ACA, ICWA, CFA, LLB, ACS, CAIIB etc. and they possess rich and varied exposure in Credit, Foreign Exchange, Marketing, Public Relations and Branch Administration. No importance is being given to them and most of them are neglected when it comes to promotion. They remain a frustrated lot, cursing their fate, because they are on the wrong side of their age.
Here, one important point is to be emphasized. Most bank managements think that only because of frustration arising out of bad working atmosphere and lack of growth prospects, these young officers leave the bank service (it is immaterial if the senior officers are also exposed to similar working conditions). Because of this fear, the managements treat the young officers with great respect and extend them all possible privileges comparable to those obtaining in I.T. or Infrastructure sectors.
Though the management is aware of the high rate of attrition among such young officers (direct recruits), it shuts its eyes and goes on to pamper them with quicker promotions.
What such officers do in return for such favours received? They merrily enjoy all the privileges extended during their stay in the bank, accept quicker promotions and leave the bank after a short period say, 3 to 7 years, availing themselves of the offers they get from the market rivals. They never feel guilty of their behavior.
They do not realize the value of the promotions received without the much needed banking knowledge and requisite experience and they never undergo the travails of the whole promotion process, as compared to their seniors. The banks that went out of the way to give them speedy promotion are used as a ladder or a stepping stone or a launching pad by them. The managements are not put to shame by their sheer, unforgivable disloyalty and betrayal.
As a result of this management behavior, the promotional chances of senior chances are scuttled and they are greatly disappointed and get demoralized.
The thrust of the arguments put forward here is the managements must learn to recognize and accord proper weightage to those senior officers with rich and varied experience in different spheres of banking and also possessing good knowledge regarding the latest technological trends and developments and having hands on experience in the latest technological tools, systems and processes to a fair measure. Dynamism and lateral thinking are also not lacking in many senior officers. In fact, they are the people who are first sent to places of serious problems like frauds, burglary, customers’ complaints, public protests and any other serious problems. They have successfully faced any explosive situation and solved such organizational problems with their domain knowledge, rich experience, strong emotional stability and sharp acumen.
Branch Heads and Officers must be protected against genuine commercial risks. For no fault of theirs, they are now being victimized if at all there is a willful default on the part of the borrowers. They are held accountable for certain lapses of their colleagues and also certain unintentional errors and small mistakes of their own.
Vigilance tag is unnecessarily attached to many staff accountability studies now, even though no fraud, malpractice, malfeasance, complicity, collusion, connivance and corruption of the staff concerned are found. This is openly acknowledged by the representatives of the management themselves, albeit orally and informally.
But, there appears to be a wrong perception on the part of the managements that any staff accountability study must necessarily result in conviction and punishment of at least one or a few staff members and then only the relative case file can be allowed to be closed even for certain alleged procedural lapses. This sadistic outlook must change.
Systems and Practices in place in different public sector banks must be studied, compared and analyzed and the best positive reforms are to be identified and introduced in each bank, to restore the confidence of the officer community and to boost their sagging morale. The innocent officers are to be shielded and saved by the management like a mother protecting her young ones even when her own life is in peril.
Now let’s us see what happens in the domestic enquiry proceedings.
With the selection of the entire team of Presenting Officer, Enquiry Officer and Management Witnesses in the hands of the management, their findings/deposition are not taken into account and given due consideration, while arriving at the final decision especially when such findings/deposition do not match the ‘anticipated outcome’ of the management.
All the bank records, duly authenticated by responsible managers and taken as ‘defence exhibits’ are not at all given due importance by the management. The management conveniently disregards and brushes aside all such concrete documentary evidences, if they are on the side of the accused officials. The facts are given a bizarre twist to suit the capricious ideas of those who have a final say.
While awarding punishment too, the issues of favouritism and discrimination are amply present due to extraneous factors. Even where the likely loss is small, stringent punishment is awarded knowing fully well the staff concerned is an honest, efficient and otherwise successful officer/manager. Similarly, even where the account in question is closed under ‘OTS’ despite the bank having sufficient securities to fall upon, deterrent punishment is meted out to the manager/officer. What kind of justice is it?
Next at the appeal stage, it is invariably turned down without assigning any cogent and convincing reasons and the penalty once decided and communicated is always upheld. Fair, objective and independent examination of all materials on hand is not undertaken and unbiased decisions are not made.
Thus it is evident there is no place for fair-play and it is nothing but a mockery and subversion of justice.
‘Vicarious responsibility’ is fixed on the managers/officers at the branches for whatever mistakes/blunders/financial impropriety of their sub-ordinates/colleagues, but the same yardstick is not applied to Zonal Managers and above. If the advances under GM/ED/CMD/Board powers fail, no one is held accountable. Similarly, if any decision (indecision too) or action (inaction too) of GM and above results in substantial loss to the bank, no one is ever booked. To add insult to the injury, the branch managers are sacrificed for the mistakes and lapses of officials at Zonal Office and Head Office, as seen in many cases. Is this not a clear case of arbitrariness, selective targeting and discrimination? Is that not quite atrocious? Are the officers working at the branches mere sacrificial lambs at the sacred altar of the management?
The prevailing climate at the branches is too harsh, unfavourable and rough for a good manager to function freely in the today’s context. If this is continued for a few more years, it will definitely spell doom for all public sector banks in future. Before it happens, the respective managements, Trade Unions, IBA, RBI and Ministry of Finance must take some concrete measures to restore the confidence of the field staff and give them some kind of reassurance to work fearlessly while expanding the public sector banks’ business.
The only motto of the the public sector banks must be “Live and let live; grow and let grow and prosper and let prosper”, because the paths of the organization and the whole time personnel working in it cannot be any different. And the pace of growth of both shall be even and parallel.
Before concluding, I wish to point out three major developments due to happen in the near future.
1. Nearly 2 Lakhs of bank staff are estimated to retire on attaining the age of superannuation in the next 3 years.
2. The Central Government may constitute the 7th Pay Commission any time after March 2014 and its recommendations (to the extent identified for implementation) will become a reality by the year 2016.
3. In the meantime, the next wage revision agreement (10th Bipartite Settlement) for the bank staff is expected to be signed in the year 2014.
So what is in store for the bankers?