Humble hiring plans
Hiring also remains stagnant. Only 20% of credit unions plan to add employees this year, which is the same percentage as last year. That’s down from 30% in 2008 and 35% in 2007. Among credit unions that do plan to add staff, the average is 3.3 new full-time and 1.7 new part-time employees.
“Remember, there’s a level you can’t drop below without compromising your member service,” cautions Sinibaldi.
There’s one bright spot in this area: lower turnover. In 2009, 88% of credit union employees remained in their positions versus 85% in 2008 and 81% in 2007. Among employees who changed positions or were hired in 2009, 9% filled existing positions, while 3% filled newly created ones.
“But don’t take employee retention for granted,” says Soltis. “There’s always a market for top performers, and if you’re not finding ways to meet their needs, you risk losing them, even in this economy.”
As long as staff compensation remains stagnant, credit unions must find other ways to motivate staff. Several strategies that have worked for credit unions include:
• Connect with employees. Communication should be continuous and two-way, not a crisis-driven, top-down anomaly, says Pat Palmer, principal and CEO at Where Eagles Soar. “‘Management by walking around’ is critical. It helps to build relationships and to ensure the CEO actually knows what’s going on at the credit union.”
Reynolds follows this advice. She holds monthly employee meetings and requires each employee to send her weekly e-mail examples of good leadership and bad leadership they’ve observed. “And they tell me what they’re doing to improve their own skills,” she says. “This creates a culture where employees understand they’re a critical part of our success.”
• Create community, both inside the credit union and out. “We have cross-functional teams to handle different internal projects, such as our recent rebranding efforts. And they also volunteer with outside organizations,” says Audra Mead, vice president of human resources and administration at $336 million asset CitizensFirst Credit Union in Oshkosh, Wis.
When you have bad news to share, just do it—preferably face-to-face, says Soltis. “Employees know when things aren’t going well. Take control of the information instead of leaving them to make inferences,” she says.
• Be creative with employee rewards. Many credit unions can’t afford to increase salaries, and they might not have to.
“Don’t assume money is the reward employees value most,” says Palmer, who recommends using private questionnaires and focus groups divided by age. Gen Y employees don’t necessarily value the same types of rewards that baby boomers value, he says, suggesting that credit unions determine what employees value and then deliver on their requests, when possible.
Sinibaldi recommends promoting from within whenever possible. “It’s a win-win for everyone: The cost is lower to us, we have a proven performer who supports our credit union’s philosophy, and it shows that we value making an investment in our employees.”
A growing number of credit unions are also using pay-for-performance, which ties rewards to preset performance criteria. Almost 30% of credit unions had a performance system in place this year, versus roughly 25% in 2009, according to CUNA’s salary survey. There’s a direct correlation between asset size and the likelihood of offering these programs: Only 6% of credit unions with less than $10 million in assets use pay-for-performance, versus 40% of those with $50 million to $100 million in assets, and 70% of credit unions with more than $1 billion in assets.
“Employees’ cross-selling efforts should be a natural outgrowth of relationship-building,” says Mead. “We teach our employees that when you take the time to know your members, you’ll be able to point them in the direction of needed products and services, and we reward employees who create this opportunity.”
• Help employees get the most out of their health-care plans. Rising health-care costs continue to drive up credit union expenses. This can potentially undermine employee satisfaction. Credit unions are using two strategies to fight back: options and education.
“When we can’t keep insurance costs as low as we like, we try to make up for that with more choices,” says Reynolds. “Having some control goes a long way toward increasing employee satisfaction with the program.”
CitizensFirst uses education to empower employees and reduce cost increases. “We’ve brought in experts to show employees how their health-care choices—for instance, using the emergency room when urgent care might have been more appropriate—affect costs,” says Mead. “We’ve also created wellness programs and rewarded people for exercise and weight loss.”
As a result, the credit union has been able to keep health-care premium cost increases in the single digits for its employees, compared with the double-digit jumps faced by many employers in recent years.