This article first appeared on CreditUnions.com during the week of March 10-16. Schools Financial Credit Union’s baby/parent friendly staff policies caught our attention and several of our readers took note. As the economy picks up and retaining our best employees becomes more of a challenge, is this a future model we can expect to see at more and more credit unions across the country?
By early 2001, unemployment had been at record lows for several years, and competition for employees was fierce. Retention of our employees is a very high priority here at Schools Financial Credit Union, but unfortunately we had seen an increase in turnover. We realized we needed to focus special attention on retaining employees.
We already had several programs and policies that we thought would improve retention. These included an emphasis on our employee culture, an all-day employee development conference (with professional speakers), make-up time, benefits statements, and management training.
At the California Credit Union League meeting in November 2000, an interesting benefit that could serve as an additional retention incentive was presented by Valley Credit Union of San Jose. The program was called Babies in the Workplace. It allows new parents to bring infants to work with them. It was designed to allow parents to keep their babies at work until a baby is six months old or crawling, whichever comes first.
Through our research, we found that Valley Credit Union benchmarked San Jose National Bank’s program. We used Valley’s program as the model for our own Babies in the Workplace program. As with any good program these days, we had to get our attorneys to review the program and approve a liability waiver form.
This was done. In March 2001 we adopted three programs to supplement the ones we already had: Babies in the Workplace, free BillPay for employees, and a retention incentive program for managers.
Benefits of Babies in the Workplace
The intent of the program is to return employees from maternity leave sooner than the seven months allowed by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA). When we reviewed our records, we found that our employees took an average of nine weeks leave upon the birth of a child. In addition, we thought this program would demonstrate our commitment to a family-friendly environment.
When we originally began researching Babies, we had numerous questions and concerns:
- What would happen when the baby cries?
- Who would be responsible for liability if the baby were injured in the workplace?
- How would members react?
- How would co-workers react?
We discussed these questions in detail with Valley Credit Union. They reassured us that their program had been very positive. In addition, we realized that although the employee would be back at work, the employee would not be expected to perform at 100 percent. The employee’s first priority would be to care for the child. If the child were crying, the employee would be permitted to care for the child, even if that were to mean wrapping up what the employee was doing, leaving a meeting, or ending a phone call.
While we would not have the full time undivided attention of the employee, in some cases the employees would have returned to work five months before they would have returned if we had not made this program available (recalling that FMLA and CFRA allow seven months of leave). We do not replace employees who are out on maternity and bonding leave, so we are much better off with an employee working most of the time rather than not having the employee at work at all.
Since its start almost two years ago, we have had eight employees take advantage of the program. We have a workforce of approximately 270 employees, so this is about 1% to 2% of our employees using the program at any one time. Our members and staff have had a very positive reaction to the babies. The children being in the office environment is boosting our employee morale. The problem we are beginning to face is that once the child turns six months old or is able to crawl, our employees do not want the children to leave! On the flip side, co-workers also have the option to request a baby-free environment, and we will work with them to accommodate their needs.
Our credit union has provided appropriate changing and feeding areas as the need arises. Instead of immediately installing changing and feeding areas at all our locations, we have installed them upon notification that an employee is interested in participating in the program.
This program has had a very positive impact on staff morale. Our staff has seen that we do offer a family-friendly work environment. This is especially important with a workforce that is 80% female. We have also noticed that having babies in our work areas has had a positive impact on everyone in the area. Our members seem supportive of the program, and we have even had a member take the time to write and tell us how proud she is to be a member of our Credit Union and she uses our branch more often so she can come in and see the children.
The eight employees who have taken advantage of the program have returned to work in an average of seven weeks, which means we have saved two weeks of leave per employee. In addition, our employees have saved an average of $2,600 each in childcare costs, because newborn childcare costs about $600 per month. Most importantly, our employees have been able to spend this special bonding time with their new babies.