Manager’s suicide prompts bank unions to flag ‘pressure’ factor

Ramesh (name changed), a branch manager of a public sector bank, has now almost lost track of the number of targets he has to meet. In addition to the traditional banking duties, he is supposed to hit the target on a variety of government schemes from Jan Dhan accounts and Mudra loans to Atal Pension Yojana and even the distribution of FASTags for vehicles and profit targets from the sale of third party products, including insurance schemes and mutual funds.

Following the suicide of K.S. Swapna, manager of the Thokkilangadi branch of Canara Bank last week, citing stressful working conditions, banking unions have yet again taken up an issue which has been a constant concern for the past few years. The mergers of public sector banks, the push towards privatisation, lack of enough employees and new recruitments, expansion in duties of employees and harassment from higher-ups have led to a situation wherein officer-level employees spend much of the day at office, late into the night.

Speaking to The Hindu, C.J. Nandakumar, president of the Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI), says that the entire workload and responsibility land on the branch managers and officers.

Problems after merger

“The bank mergers were imposed on us by the government. The integration of these banks have led to a lot of complications. For instance, different counters of Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank now function inside the Bank of Baroda, as these three have now been merged. After the merger of Syndicate and Canara banks, the Thokkilangadi branch is one of those which will be rationalised, a euphemism for closing down. Even these branches which are to be closed have to follow these strict targets. Because the software systems are still not fully integrated after bank mergers, they are not even able to serve the original customers,” says Mr. Nandakumar.

After the recruitment freeze for several years till 2010, the public sector banks began new intakes, when a new generation of young engineering graduates joined the sector, who were then able to get quick promotions. But many of them do not get the adequate training to handle the pressure and responsibilities of a managerial post. While clerical posts have fixed working hours, the officer-level posts do not have the same, hitting their work-life balance, says C.D. Josson, State general secretary of the All India Bank Employees’ Association.

Blamed for NPAs

The unions point out how the successive governments have washed their hands of the responsibility of rising Non-Performing Assets (NPAs), through huge loans for corporates, with the blame resting entirely on the banks. Considering the precarious financial situation, there has been a push to generate income through sale of third party products, including mutual funds, with stringent targets, the burden of which finally falls on the branch manager. Some managers also talk of increment cuts for not meeting housing loan targets, despite their best efforts in environmentally sensitive areas or coastal regions where there are restrictions on construction. Reminders on the various targets come as phone calls and WhatsApp messages constantly. The progressive weakening of the unions and the co-opting of some of them by the management have worsened the situation.

“In the past two years, there have been several cases of suicides of officer-level employees. In Kerala, there was the case of an employee in the Guruvayur branch of Corporation Bank last year. Proper investigation has to be carried out in Swapna’s case and action taken against those responsible,” Aneesh Pattazhy, of the All India Bank Officers’ Confederation.

Learning to cope

S. Adikesavan, a top bank executive, says banks should help managers cope with stress through scientific stress management training and if needed, encourage them to seek medical help. “I am saddened by Swapna’s suicide. But stress at the workplace is a part of life of bank managers at all levels. The stigma associated with seeking professional help for depression, low feelings is the main issue. Stress and targets are here to stay, whether we want it or not.”

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 5:14:53 AM |

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