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"We'll be going to the gym with our clients."

This bank wants to turn its staff (and clients) into mental & physical athletes

Banking can be bad for you. Remember that study by ex-Goldman associate turned UCLA professor Alexandra Michel which found junior bankers suffering from everything from weight gain to hair loss because of the stress and hours? Most banks are trying to do something about it by giving junior staff Saturdays or occasional weekends off. Dutch bank ING is taking things to a whole new level.

"We feel there is a need for a corporate athlete," says Mark Pieter De Boer, global head of financial markets sales at ING. "Professional athletes spend 90% of their time training and 10% of their time performing with long intervening periods when they relax. In the corporate world that ratio is reversed and people feel they need to be available 24/7, even during short holidays."

De Boer manages around 350 institutional sales staff globally at ING and he wants to stop the corporate rot that can lead to exhaustion and burnout. His aspirations aren't restricted to his staff alone: he also plans to target their families and clients with an eight month programme intended to completely change how they live their lives.

"We have four building blocks," says De Boer: "Eat, move, sleep and relax. We will embark upon four journeys of six weeks and will educate, explore and measure the application of each principal."

Having your employer measure how much relaxing and moving you do might sound intrusive and off-putting but De Boer says ING's staff have been overwhelmingly keen. 95% of them signed-up over a two week period.

Joiners have been equipped with TomTom devices that measure how many steps they take, how many calories they burn, what their heartbeat is and how much body fat they have. The results don't have to be shared with the bank, and ING only monitors outcomes on a group level. However, there's an option to create "challenges" involving small clusters of employees. Salespeople being salespeople, De Boer's expecting an element of competition: "You can imagine that at some point the Asian sales team will challenge the U.S. sales team to burn more calories."

Clients are also encouraged to take part and family members get the TomTom and access to the app too if they want. So far, 35 clients in 32 countries have signed-up.  "We'll be going to the gym with some of our clients every Monday at 12pm," says De Boer. "We're also organizing a client bike ride from London to Amsterdam and are involving clients in corporate social responsibility events instead of, say, going out for lunch."

The move follows a programme last year to increase ING sales staff's emotional intelligence. If all goes well, they'll now be emotionally empathetic and physically fit and well-rested. De Boer says it t's all part of a new approach to managing people: "There's a trend for commoditisation in this industry and we want to treat our people differently. We're focused on achieving growth, not cost savings and want to give our people a differentiating experience that will allow them to achieve real growth in their personal and professional lives."


AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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