3 Ways To Support Employees When They Need It The Most

In the face of a crisis, credit union employees step up to support vulnerable members and communities. Sometimes, they need a helping hand, too.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Look Beyond Financial Solutions: Credit unions evaluating employee needs during past crises have looked beyond financial solutions to housing, childcare, food availability, mental health, and more.
  • Be Creative With Paid Time Off: Thinking creatively about how employees can save and share paid time off is one way to ease the stress of employees everywhere and free up their mental capacity to serve members in need.
  • Institutionalize Peace Of Mind: Formal positions dedicated to connecting employees with available assistance will help keep them focused on serving members.

It’s been three weeks since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, but the effects are already deep and widespread. Across the globe, public and private life has been disrupted. In the United States, cities, counties, and even entire states are asking residents to stay home. Restaurants, bars, and coffee shops have closed — sometimes by legal order — or have shifted to a strict delivery- or takeaway-only model if they can. Public social gathering locations, such as parks, have likewise closed. 

Essential businesses, including credit unions, are still open, however. When possible, many credit unions are adopting work from home policies, encouraging members to use remote or self-service tools, limiting branch hours, and closing locations completely. It’s an uncertain time, and the emotional toll promises to be severe. 

As credit unions work diligently to cushion the financial fallout of the coronavirus, so, too, are they considering ways to care for employees. And although they are facing unprecedented challenges, credit unions can look to past experiences for inspiration on how to care for their workforces as much as their members.

Look Beyond Financial Solutions

In October 2017, the Tubbs Fire in California burned nearly 37,000 acres and incinerated more than 5,700 structures, including nearly 3,000 homes. According to an estimate from Santa Rosa’s mayor, the fire caused $1.2 billion in damage and destroyed 5% of the city’s housing stock. In response, Redwood Credit Union ($5.0B, Santa Rosa, CA) reopened its North Bay Fire Relief Fund and collected more than $32 million to support its community members — whether they belonged to the credit union or not — in their time of need.

But the big California cooperative didn’t just show concern for its external community, it also rallied to support employees. A year later, Cynthia Negri, Redwood’s chief operating officer, talked with CreditUnions.com about its employee-specific efforts, which included creating temporary childcare for employees because so many schools were shut down, offering free on-site counseling, and giving staff members the ability to pool PTO hours to share with fellow employees. It also provided employees lunch, snacks, and other necessities. 

Twenty-three employees and two volunteers lost their homes, and 150 employees were evacuated. But the credit union needed to remain operational to serve members, and the dedication of employees helped it do that.

“We had employees who lost homes come into work the next day,” Negri said. “People who were evacuated came to work to help keep our systems up, knowing we had to be available to members. The resiliency of people is amazing.”

Further east and south, credit unions sprang into action after a series of earthquakes in late 2019 and early 2020 left thousands of Puerto Rican residents homeless, disrupted government services in the territory’s second-largest city, and closed cultural attractions key to the area’s tourism industry.

In the wake of the earthquakes, Adjuntas Coop channeled financial aid to employees and made the emotional health of staff members a top priority, paying employees who could not attend work and making a psychologist available for group and individual counseling.

Check out the growing Pandemic Response Repository on CreditUnions.com. Credit union and Callahan contributions include team communications emails, business continuity plans, and more.

“Employees were emotionally affected by the experiences,” Miguel A. Jusino, CEO of Adjuntas told CreditUnions.com in February. “We are providing measures to channel these emotions.

Why this matters now: Like a natural disaster, the situation surrounding the coronavirus has escalated quickly, leaving little time for people to effectively prepare. And as with wildfires or earthquakes, the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate — credit union members as well as staff members are feeling its effects. But credit unions can lean in to evaluate what employees need and provide assistance where they can, looking beyond financial solutions to housing, childcare, food availability, mental health, and more.

Be Creative With Paid Time Off

Redwood gave employees the chance to pool and share time off. At One Nevada Credit Union ($953.9M, Las Vegas, NV), even the shortest-tenured staffers receive 16 days of paid time off per year. More seasoned employees earn up to 26 days per year. However, employees still find themselves in a tight spot if they fall into the gap between maxing out PTO and accessing short- or long-term disability. 

If there’s a gap in coverage, that’s where One Nevada’s extended illness bank comes in. Employees can transfer unused earned PTO to the EIC at a ratio of 2-1, turning one hour of earned PTO into two hours in the illness bank. If they need additional paid time off for an illness, they can dip into the bank. 

“We created the program to bridge the gap between the elimination periods on our disability program,” Michael Traficanti, One Nevada’s senior vice president of human resources and facilities operations, told CreditUnions.com in January.

The credit union has offered the program for more than 20 years — longer than Traficanti has been with the institution — and as of early January 2020, 40% of its workers held a balance in the bank.

Why this matters now: Staying healthy and planning how to cover bills and necessities in case one does fall sick is on the minds of many Americans today. Although it might be too late to institute a time off policy like One Nevada's to address the first wave of coronavirus illnesses, thinking creatively about how employees can save and share paid time off is one way to ease the stress of employees everywhere and free up their mental capacity to serve members in need.

Institutionalize Peace Of Mind

In late 2018, American 1 Credit Union ($421.3M, Jackson, MI) created a role specifically dedicated to helping staff deal with personal issues that fall outside the scope of traditional HR concerns. These issues run the gamut and include family or medical challenges, childcare, transportation, marital stress, financial stress, and more. 

“Sometimes, people simply aren’t aware of resources that are available to help them,” Myeshia Jones, American 1’s success navigator, told CreditUnions.com in July 2019. “The success navigator position was created to connect team members with resources and training to help overcome barriers to successful employment.”

The position requires someone who is approachable and trustworthy as well as knowledgeable about community services. Plus, a successful success navigator must be able to look deeper at the root cause of presented problems and recommend an appropriate solution.

Prepare your credit union's response to COVID-19 using the Ideas In Action: Pandemic Response page, a hub for all of our articles, webinars, and policies concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.

At American 1, Jones participates in new employee onboarding, formal training, and one-on-one meetings. She also creates plans to help team member resolve obstacles.

Why this matters now: Credit unions and their employees are in unchartered territories. Today’s environment will have lingering, widespread effects, and it’s difficult to predict what will happen as the pandemic evolves. Employees want to work, and positions like this will help keep them focused on serving members, confident in the fact they have support in their own lives.

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