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A time of accounting

In this editorial, Dorrit Brandt, president of Finansforbundet in Nordea, talsk about the unregistered work. Nordea’s latest quarterly results made very positive headlines but the prize is stress, overtime work, sleepless nights and all the times when family plans were postponed for “work reasons”.

26. May 2021
4 min

Nordea’s latest quarterly results made very positive headlines. The topline grew by 20 per cent, the cost/income ratio fell to 48, the bottom line almost doubled and return on equity surpassed the magical 10 per cent. The figures were praised and became a story of Nordea’s success.

But these are not the only figures that tell a story. Other figures are equally relevant for the results.

If the employees’ collective blood pressure was measured right now, I think the physician would probably frown deeply and advise everybody to take it easy to prevent a life-threatening condition. In some parts of the organisation the alarming pulse measurement result would make the physician pronounce the patient close to death.

Shadow numbers
A return on equity of 10 per cent is a number that is celebrated, while units and teams have up to 10 per cent on sick leave due to stress. That is definitely not a cause for celebration. Nordea has long strived for a cost/income ratio of 50 per cent. At the same time, some colleagues are witnessing that 50 per cent of their team seek new opportunities outside Nordea.

The cost/income ratio can be reduced by either boosting earnings or cutting costs. When both happen at the same time, there is a price to be paid. A price which at the results announcement was referred to as “blood, sweat and tears”. But seriously: is that a reasonable price to pay for doing one’s job?

To this should be added the overtime, sleepless nights and all the times when family plans were postponed for “work reasons”.

All that no one sees
All these figures – and more – are also part of the financial statements. And so is unregistered work.

According to Malene Friis Andersen, stress researcher and business psychologist, unregistered work is when employees perform tasks and services above and beyond the call of duty. They feel they must do it to maintain their professional identity, judgement or values.

For example when an agent in 24/7 spends more than four minutes on a call, because the elderly customer still hasn’t managed to get Netbank to work, or there is an opportunity for an additional sale that it would be a shame to pass up – although the minutes count more than the sale.

Another example is when an adviser is contacted about that week’s seventh housing transaction and the customer meeting is placed outside working hours because time is of the essence if Nordea is to land this deal. Or when time is spent on asking former contacts whose knowledge you need to finalise a job – although it’s not part of the service agreement. Professional pride wins but neither time spent nor actions taken are registered as this is not part of the employee’s core task or targets.

Unregistered work takes a toll
You might well ask: so what? What’s the harm in doing a little extra to please a customer or colleague or remedy a defect? Should Nordea not just be pleased about this free and extra work that the employees put in? The stress researcher’s answer is a resounding no.

If employees spend their own time on doing unregistered work that goes unnoticed it will drain their physical and mental resources. That is exactly what happens when work is not measured and registered.

Not a viable path to a sustainable working life
Unregistered work could also be seen as a quiet protest against working within a narrow framework or mandate where the standard solution does not suit the customer. The consequence could be loss of motivation and sense of purpose. Or a touch of cynicism that makes employees just do what they are measured on in order to “survive” although other solutions would have been better. That is not a viable path to a sustainable working life.

Nor is it a viable path to further improvement of financial results. The time of accounting does not necessarily coincide with quarterly results – it can come when you least expect it.

As long as internal key measures do not show the same positive development as the financial highlights, allow me to take a rain check on the celebrations.

Dorrit Brandt,
President, Finansforbundet in Nordea