With the stress of the pandemic affecting employees, many leaders keenly recognized that employee mental health was a crucial concern.
For essential front-line staff, anxiety could be particularly high. “They’re part of something bigger than themselves, and they’re putting their personal health at risk to keep their credit union going, their local communities going, and our national economy going,” says Bruce Adams, president/CEO of the Credit Union League of Connecticut.
The league identified mental health professionals to work with its member credit unions if needed.
“Crises like these are never the same,” Adams says. “Confident leadership and stability are the name of the game. You’ve got to start from scratch and build up your resources, tune your engine every day, and get better as you go along.”
Sandi Carangi, CEO at $79 million asset Mercer County Community Credit Union, Hermitage, Pa., recognized the pandemic caused a shift in employee needs.
“I think in the back of employees’ minds, they’ve always assumed the CEO was there to take care of the credit union and its members,” Carangi says. “But now, in just a couple of weeks, this has shifted to where employees want to know the CEO is taking care of them at this time of a great national crisis.”
Carangi points out the importance of comprehending employees’ differing levels of anxiety.
She recognized fear of contracting the virus, concerns about job security, and the stress of assisting members in dire circumstances as three primary stressors.
Understanding these struggles has been an essential starting point for supporting workers through the crisis.
“Our employees are facing their own set of tough circumstances, with family members out of work and worries about their jobs,” Carangi says. “It’s a burden on our employees trying to help our members and their own families at the same time.”
It may be tempting to focus all energy on simply getting through the current crisis. But CUNA Senior Policy Analyst Samira Salem cautions leaders against postponing ongoing initiatives that could benefit members and staff during the pandemic. She cites initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as highly important right now.
“When there’s a crisis, the most vulnerable tend to be hit the hardest,” says Salem. “Our work to advance DEI is needed now more than ever to help vulnerable members and staff weather the COVID-19 crisis.”
Salem suggests that leaders become aware of pain points for vulnerable populations and offer responsive solutions. For example, people of color are more likely to work in vulnerable industries and to lose their jobs. This makes access to savings and emergency small dollar loans critical.
Continuing to offer financial counseling and debt consolidation assistance also supports vulnerable populations.
COVID-19 communications often have to happen quickly to account for new developments. But this can put vulnerable members at a disadvantage.
“If you have members who are non-English speakers, make sure communications are translated and accessible via multiple channels,” Salem says.
On the staff side, focus on inclusive leadership to boost staff morale. “This means creating a virtual community through regular virtual updates and check-ins where you listen to your staff about how they’re feeling,” says Salem. “Acknowledge their critical role on the front lines, reaffirm your commitment to keeping them safe, and ask what the credit union can do to make sure they have what they need.”
While leaders focus primarily on serving others, they need to practice the same self-care they are likely encouraging employees to do, Salem says.
“Making time to tend to your own physical and emotional needs is important because it allows us—no matter where we are on the organizational chart—to refuel and bring our best and most authentic selves to work.”