Amidst the usual warnings about the hypocrisy of profitable banks cutting staff, news that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) is slashing 251 IT, business banking and retail banking services roles has raised concerns about the mental health of the IT workers who remain.

Some 822 roles in Sydney and Melbourne are being made redundant, the Australian Financial Review reported, with 571 workers redeployed and 251 retrenched from roles including analyst, data architect, risk manager, software engineer, product manager, and more.

The cuts will challenge the bank’s remaining IT staff to pick up the slack, Finance Sector Union (FSU) national secretary Julia Angrisano said, noting that union members were already complaining about “significant workload and staffing issues at the CBA” and warning that this latest reduction in headcount will exacerbate the problem.

“The jobs being lost are specialists across a range of areas,” she said, “and it is unclear how the work of the Business Banking, IT and Retail Services [business units] can be covered with so many jobs being lost.”

“It is hard to believe that the bank can afford to lose so many experienced staff at the same time that it has a significant overwork problem across the organisation.”

The announcement is the latest in a series of changes to the CBA’s IT workforce and staff pipeline strategy, which also saw the 28 July appointment of Rodrigo Castillo, former CIO with HSBC’s wealth and personal banking business for the Americas market, as the CBA’s new chief technology officer.

The technology job layoffs come just months after the CBA opened a Brisbane tech hub that is expected to add 100 jobs to Brisbane’s tech industry – and complement similar facilities opened in Adelaide and Melbourne last year – as part of the bank’s efforts to “position itself as a global digital bank and a leader in digital experiences and technology.”

Those efforts also include a significant expansion of the CBA’s graduate intake, which the bank announced in March would see it hire 219 new technology graduates this year – almost enough to replace the workers retrenched in this latest round of layoffs – in an effort to “develop its local talent pipeline for early technology careers and to help it invest in its future workforce.”

Designed to focus participants on cyber security, data science, and engineering, CBA executive general manager of HR for Operations and Technology Jane Adams said at the time that CBA’s technology graduate program reflects the bank’s commitment to “collaborating with, and investing in, local tech communities to address the critical skills shortage in technology and maintain our country’s competitiveness.”

Clearing the decks

CBA isn’t the only major bank to be streamlining its technology team: Westpac also angered the FSU after a series of what Angrisano called “callous”, “unconscionable” and “arbitrary” redundancies recently slashed over 650 jobs – including more than 300 technology workers and frontline customer support services cut from its Consumer and Business Banking Division.

That bank has also restructured its IT strategy, announcing in July that it would split its IT and operations functions, reintroducing a CIO role that had been merged with operations during a major pandemic-era shakeup.

Whether they represent a long-term reduction in technology worker numbers, or a strategy to replace those workers with more-junior postgraduates, such dramatic cuts could increase pressure on an already stressed workforce that will find itself under increasing pressure to deliver continuous service with fewer resources.

One recent survey, for example, found that 36 per cent of finance workers feel stressed and anxious more than half of their work days or nearly all the time – with 44 per cent saying that being overworked has a negative impact on their mental health.

Fully 40 per cent of respondents said they wished their employers would provide more mental health training and support – but just 25 per cent said their employers were actually offering such programs, far behind industries such as technology and government.

Such shortfalls are likely to exacerbate job stress for remaining IT workers, Angrisano warned, noting that “CBA staff are concerned that the job losses will lead to further workload problems for remaining staff, which will ultimately impact on customers.”