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Financial firms that turn specialists into generalists are putting key talent and business productivity at risk

Creation of ‘Generation Generalist’ could harm individual development and hamper business growth
London, 03 December 2013 – Financial services organisations are increasingly at risk of losing key talent by turning their specialist staff into generalist staff, according to new research by recruiter Michael Page. The survey of 2,000 white collar professionals found that workers’ specialist skills are under threat as UK professionals say they now spend a minimum of 10 hours a week – or 65 days a year - on activities outside of their main remit. As a result, one in every two financial services workers now consider themselves to be a generalist and as many as one in three (30%) feel that having an increasingly generalist role is having a negative impact on their productivity at work.
Developing a generalist skill set is normally associated with promotion and seniority but Michael Page’s research revealed that ‘responsibility creep’ is happening across the board. Often workers’ specialist skills are being diluted within just two years of them entering a new job and over half (51%) of the financial services professionals questioned said that they are spending more time on non-core tasks than they expected when starting their current job.
David Leithead, managing director of Michael Page Banking & Financial Services comments: “Financial services organisations are increasingly looking for new hires with very specific skillsets, such as the ability to navigate new compliance or risk management agendas. The problem seems to be that once these people are through the door, they are often needed to take on a more generalist role, at least as an interim measure, to get the business through the current economic uncertainty. The mantra of ‘doing more with less’ may seem practical in the current climate but it cannot continue as a long-term strategy. Specialist staff know their worth and if they feel that their specialist skills are at risk, they’ll vote with their feet, creating a repetitive and costly re-hiring scenario.”
In stark contrast to other sectors surveyed, workers in financial services organisations were most likely to have been given additional responsibilities in a recent appraisal yet least likely to have been rewarded with a pay rise or promotion. The move away from specialist skills is already worrying many financial services professionals. Over half (54%) think that their employer could be doing more to develop their specialist skills and one in three (31%) are concerned that this generalist trend could threaten future job prospects. As a result a third (32%) said that they would consider looking for a new job if they didn’t feel their employer was doing enough to protect their specialist skills.
Overall, Michael Page’s research found that three in four (77%) of individuals in the survey are currently either actively looking for a new job or are open to a new job, highlighting the challenge that employers face if they don’t take appropriate steps to reward their staff.
Leithead adds: “Most employees are willing to go the extra mile and take on additional work in difficult times but this goodwill won’t last forever and they may soon become disengaged. When employees feel undervalued and overwhelmed it doesn’t take a lot of additional pressure to tip the balance and make them more open to new job opportunities where they feel their specialist skills will be used and nurtured and they will be more fairly rewarded for their work. Organisations can’t be complacent about this and they must look at ways to capitalise on their workforce’s specialist skills in order to retain key talent and boost business productivity.”
Notes to editors:
Media contact
Sophie Tudor, Communications Executive, PageGroup
T: 020 3077 8177
About the survey
The ‘Specialist vs. Generalist’ survey questioned 2000 UK core office workers who are currently in employment and who were recruited into specialist roles. 200 people in the survey work in banking/ financial services.
The survey questioned individuals across a number of sectors including IT, manufacturing, financial services, public sector, retail and pharmaceutical. Individuals were surveyed on the basis that they have been in employment for a minimum of five years and employed with their current organisation for at least one year in order to account for their changing role in the workplace. Individuals were aged 18-65 years old and were sampled from organisations with over 50 employees. For the purposes of the survey, respondents were deemed specialists or generalists at work on the basis of the amount of time they spend each day on their core role as follows:
Specialist: Time and focus is spent on a single specialism
Generalist: Role is made up of many activities
The research was conducted by independent research house Loudhouse in July 2013