Executive Suite

Promoting Work-Life Balance

Employee-friendly policies foster staff loyalty and improve productivity.

July 11, 2013
Few companies are in a position to be as generous or flexible with their employees as Yahoo! But new CEO Marissa Mayer’s major policy changes on parental leave and telecommuting have sparked a lot of discussion about the evolving relationship between employer and employee, and the oft -cited “work-life balance.”
Credit unions understand that a work environment built on flexibility, support, and solid benefits can result in increased overall productivity and loyalty, executives say.
Employee feedback crucial
Recently, a branch manager for $830 million asset Rogue Federal Credit Union, based in Medford, Ore., called his superior to ask for two weeks off due to a family emergency. So did an information systems specialist immersed in a major system integration.
Both requests required some juggling to fill the void. But management granted them with the blessing of President/CEO Gene Pelham.
“This is not a slacker organization,” Pelham says. “Hopefully we’ve built enough trust and respect that, by being true and recognizing individual responsibilities, folks actually perform at higher levels.”
This outlook applies to major life events but also to the everyday experiences that enrich or deepen family bonds. “How productive is somebody who resents the fact that their child’s out playing a ballgame, and they’re stuck at the office?” Pelham asks.
Rogue Federal offers competitive benefits such as a paid time-off program that employees can use for any circumstance, and makes all its awards ceremonies and community activities family-friendly.
But Pelham knows that no system is perfect. So he tracks the pulse of his employees by scheduling small-group meetings. To promote honest conversation, employees’ supervisors aren’t in the room.
“It started out as, ‘The button doesn’t work on this device,’” Pelham says. “But the staff have really raised the level over time, bringing up relevant organizational issues that keep us in touch with the challenges employees face while working at their jobs.”
The credit union refused to close any branches or lay off employees during the recession, even at the expense of its net worth ratio. Employees received merit raises throughout the downturn, and received bonuses in all but one year in that span.
The credit union has an internal Net Promoter Score of 80%. In 2013, Oregon Business placed Rogue Federal at No. 7 among large companies in its “Best Places to Work” competition.
“None of this happens if our board isn’t supportive of this family-focused staffing strategy,” Pelham says.
NEXT: Redefine 'balance'

Redefine ‘balance’
A speaker at an executive women’s leadership conference Suzanne Oliver recently attended panned the concept of “work-life balance.” Oliver, chair of the CUNA Human Resources/Training & Development Council, agrees it’s an improper goal.
“It isn’t possible,” says Oliver, senior vice president of educational services and governmental affairs at $3.4 billion asset Mountain America Credit Union in West Jordan, Utah.
Oliver isn’t being pessimistic. Rather, she supports the perspective motivational speaker Dr. John Rhodes offered Mountain America staff recently. Employees should consider their available time as a “wheel” and constantly re-evaluate how many sections they dedicate to each aspect of their lives, he says.
“I love this idea because it’s about picking and choosing, depending on the stage of life you’re in,” she continues. “Sometimes you must give more attention to work. Other times your personal life is a higher priority.”
Oliver lauds Mountain America for recognizing those opportunities for employees as well. During the lead-up to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, massive freeway expansion projects made getting to work an excruciating experience. In response, Mountain America initiated a telecommuting program for some of its call center employees.
The successful program continues to this day, and now includes staff from other areas, too.
Mountain America recently garnered its fourth “Best Companies to Work For” award from Utah Business magazine, and the state’s Department of Workforce Services bestowed on the credit union the 2012 Utah Work/Life Award.
Be an ‘employer of choice’
At last summer’s long-range planning meeting, Bob Fisher took a cue from Google, Microsoft , Facebook, and other forward-looking companies.
Fisher asked that Grow Financial Federal Credit Union scrap the “legalese” in its mission statement, which was something “nobody could ever remember or repeat.”
The new mantra—“Be Bold. Be Great. Have Fun.”—thrills Fisher, president/CEO of the $1.8 billion asset credit union in Tampa, Fla.
How does Grow Financial Federal embody “fun”? By promoting staff activities, such as Take Your Kid to Work Day, featuring a visit by Radio Disney; outings to professional sporting events ; and an annual diversity fest, where employees bring a dish inspired by their ancestry.
“Our idea was to become an employer of choice,” Fisher says.
That commitment consists of more than just novel activities. Grow Financial Federal took its lumps during the recession but continued its commitment to employees with no layoffs, pay cuts, or salary freezes. The credit union also continued its merit increases—generally 2% to 3%—and its 8% match on 401(k) plans.
Longstanding perks include family leave plans, flexible work schedules, an onsite health club, and college tuition reimbursements.
Grow Financial Federal recently earned the No. 1 ranking among companies with more than 500 employees in the annual Tampa Bay Times’ Top Workplaces competition, which is based on staff feedback.
“If we don’t have happy employees,” Fisher says, “they’re not going to take good care of members.”
NEXT: Recognize employee's sacrifices

Recognize employees’ sacrifices
When $50 million asset Taylor Credit Union in Medford, Wis., introduced Saturday lobby service nearly a decade ago, President/CEO Debbie Woods proposed paying time-and-a-half for weekend hours worked, while still capping employees at 40 hours a week.
That way, not only would they get a little extra money in their pockets without working overtime, they’d also receive an afternoon off midweek to run errands or unwind.
That’s no small challenge for a credit union with two branches and only 21 employees, about one-quarter of which are part time. But the board approved the plan enthusiastically.
“The board said, ‘We know the employees are making a sacrifice—what can we do to show them that we really do appreciate that?’” says Woods. “When I presented it that way, employees were very supportive.”
While underscoring that employees can’t be allowed to take advantage of the system, Woods instructs managers to err on the side of flexibility.
“‘My boss wouldn’t let me leave’—those are words I don’t want to hear,” she says.