How Danske Bank’s focus on its people is paying dividends

  • Sync NI checked in with Caroline van der Feltz, Danske Bank’s HR Director, to find out about how the bank is helping colleagues adjust to the new world of work and why it has been named one of the UK’s best places to work.

    Hi Caroline. There has been so much written about what the new world of work is going to look like after all COVID-19 restrictions ease. What is your view?

    It’s a big question that I’m not sure anyone has the answer to yet. There have some headline-grabbing announcements by companies about when, where and how they are going to allow staff to work, but I think the fundamental shift will take longer to be understood as employers and sectors work out what’s best for their people and their business. 

    What’s clear is that flexibility and choice has become a key issue; organisations will lose people if they don’t offer an element of choice and invest in training and developing skills for people to thrive in a less static work environment.

    Firms must find a balance between the old and new ways of working. The challenge is balancing employee flexibility with operational efficiency and there is no blueprint. Moving forward is as much an exploration for employers as employees. You can’t predict what will work long-term so it’s better to say ‘let’s try this and see how it goes’ but with an opportunity to say you’ll change things if it doesn’t work, it’s not set in stone.  

    What is clear is that the pandemic has influenced employee priorities and employers need to collaborate more than ever with their employees to shape what is right for them. The shift to home working has been very positive for some but we must also appreciate this is not the case for all.

    Many of your frontline staff, such as those in branches, have been in the workplace throughout the pandemic. What approach are you taking to bringing others back?

    Yes, for over a year now we have been working together to keep each other, our families and our customers safe from the virus, whilst continuing to provide a first class service. 

    Primarily we want to ensure people are healthy and happy. Our Better Ways of Working framework is based on colleagues doing at least one day in the office, two days at home and the rest is up to them. We wanted to allow the opportunity for people to reconnect with their teams and have changed how we’re using office space to allow for greater collaboration. There are aspects of work that are better achieved by spending time together, however there are also productivity benefits realised in concentrated time working from home and employees are more than capable of making those decisions in choosing how and where to work.  

    One of the challenges with home working can be achieving separation between work and life. We want to maximise the benefits flexible working has highlighted in terms of diversity and inclusion, for example when it comes to encouraging people back who are parents or carers. We don’t want people to work all of the time, we need them to disconnect and will step in if we can see from their working patterns that they aren’t doing that. We have reiterated this commitment in our Right to Disconnect Charter addressing healthy work boundaries and the human need to switch off. 

    There is still some nervousness around new variants of Covid. How are you addressing that?

    The health and wellbeing of all our colleagues is fundamental; we want them to feel safe in the workplace and we have a responsibility to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. ​​

    We’ve been providing PCR tests for some time and around 850 colleagues have had antibody tests We’ve also been accepted on to the Department of Health’s Rapid Testing Programme which will involve offering twice weekly rapid lateral flow testing to all colleagues. We are also encouraging colleagues to get vaccinated if they can and are making a donation to our charity partner, AWARE, for everyone who gets both doses of the vaccine.

    People have other reasons to want to be back in the office too – tell me about the work you are doing on domestic abuse?

    The stark reality is that one in six men and one in four women suffer from domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, with 90% of incidents happening in front of children. The impact of working arrangements during the pandemic has contributed to increasing the risk for those at risk.  

    As a responsible employer we want to provide support for colleagues when they’re at their most vulnerable. We’ve worked with Women’s Aid, the PSNI and the Men’s Advisory Project to launch a domestic abuse policy for our colleagues and are training our People Leaders to help and direct colleagues to safe places and to recognise the signs of people who are suffering abuse. It is a fundamental right to be safe and it is important that we ensure that we are doing all we can to both raise awareness and support our people. 

    Have initiatives like this contributed to Danske Bank recently being named as one of the Best Places to Work? 

    I’m very proud that we achieved a 2 star accreditation in the Best Companies survey which means we’re an ‘outstanding’ place to work. Placing 10th in all sectors in Northern Ireland and 21st in the UK Financial Services listing is a fantastic outcome for our first entry in the survey. We were one of only two companies in the NI Top 10 listing that is actually headquartered in Northern Ireland and in the financial services list, we were the only Northern Irish company listed.

    Colleagues rated our approach to responsible business, wellbeing and quality leadership highly, which are all integral strands to our people strategy in Danske. We want them to feel that they are part of an organisation with a strong social conscience, part of something bigger. 

    Because it comes from employee feedback, it’s an accolade that is really helpful when recruiting talent, especially as we move into recruiting for new roles in Great Britain as we explore pockets of opportunity for growth in that market.

    The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards digital banking, what does that mean from an HR perspective?

    Digital is now fundamental to making banking easier and exceeding customer expectations. We’ve recently created a new technology and digital focused business unit bringing together all of our customer journey squads, automation and data teams and the IT infrastructure and security team, under the leadership of a Chief Information Officer -  another role that didn’t exist for us a year ago.

    It also means the skills we’re bringing into the business are different, and when we recruit for data or automation roles for example, we’re competing with both tech and non-tech companies. The benefit is we can hire people for some of these roles from anywhere, but the flipside of that is that organisations anywhere in the world can also hire people living in NI. We’re addressing this by growing our own talent through partnerships with Queen’s University and Ulster University through our TechFutures apprenticeship programme.

    Reskilling existing employees previously in non-tech roles will also have a huge part of play in meeting our future needs. The pace of change means the job you’re hired to do may be very different over time. That requires a shift in mindset to make people comfortable that roles will have a shorter lifespan and new skills development will be a constant.

    It’s a change that requires good leadership and new approaches to managing people. We’ve seen a more empathetic, human-led type of leadership emerge, where leaders are thinking more holistically, not just about qualifications. It’s an additional challenge on top of adjusting to managing teams virtually. The ability to lead dispersed teams, to thrive in a hybrid environment will be the defining leadership characteristic going forward. Those organisations that move through the change with purpose and intent, accepting and responding to the need to equip employees with the skills to succeed in the future will undoubtedly prosper.

    This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download your FREE copy and sign up to receive future digital editions here.

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