The Year Of The Employee

How an Iowa credit union took employee appreciation to the next level.

University of Iowa Community Credit Union ($3.6B, North Liberty, Iowa) has always strived to provide a strong work environment. In fact, the credit union had been recognized as a top workplace for several years before it decided to kick things up a notch with its Year of the Employee initiative.

We ask a lot of our employees and wanted a way to give more back, says Sue Freeman, senior vice president of human resources for University of Iowa Community Credit Union.

A simple question from CEO Jeffrey Disterhoft What if we did a year of the employee? prompted the credit union to form a planning committee of about a dozen employees to gather feedback from across the organization on what was working as well as to identify new ideas.


university of iowa community credit Union
Data as of 06.30.16

  • HQ: North Liberty, IA
  • ASSETS: $3.6B
  • MEMBERS: 141,020
  • BRANCHES: 13
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 25.13%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 24.7%
  • ROA: 1.5%

The credit union charged the Year of the Employee (YOTE) committee with creating a fun, family-oriented work culture.

To accomplish this, the committee did three specific things each month:

  1. Introduce something new and different. This could be an employee benefit, a smaller perk, or an event.
  2. Enhance something the credit union was already doing. This benefit with a twist could be as simple as upgrading the brand of coffee the credit union used or as involved as changing the methodology for employee engagement surveys.
  3. Educate staff on what was available. Whether emphasizing positive points within the credit union’s current environment or reminding employees of discounts or other benefits available to them, this education initiative helped get people excited about the credit union’s existing benefits and workplace culture.

Everyone’s life is busy and sometimes you forget what’s around you or what’s available to you, Freeman says. The committee did a great job of reminding everyone and adding to the positive work environment. On the first of each month, we sent an all-staff email that listed what was going on in each of the three areas. Everyone anticipated these communications, and it helped build the excitement.

Click here for a PDF of the April 2015 Year of the Employee email Freeman sent to all staff at UICCU.

According to Freeman, several new benefits and perks stand out as resonating particularly well with employees.

We introduced a casino night for the first time last year and converted our cafeteria into a Vegas-style casino, the HR leader says. This was a hit with employees. They brought their spouse or another guest and mingled with fellow credit union staff in a more relaxed and casual environment.

In 2015, the credit union also kicked off its first annual Rally Day.

Rally Day is an all-staff event with an educational focus, Freeman says. We bring in guest speakers and enjoy learning together as a team.

In addition to the events, other popular parts of the YOTE initiative included the introduction of casual days and the distribution of an iPad to each employee after University of Iowa Community Credit Union became the largest credit union in the state of Iowa.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Get rolling on important initiatives using documents, policies, and templates borrowed from fellow credit unions. Pull them off the shelf and tailor them to your needs. Visit Callahan’s Executive Resource Center today. For credit unions that want to make 2017 The Year Of The Employee, check out this overview from UICCU.

Other interesting benefits include the Student Loan Interest Forgiveness Program, which reimburses employees who have worked for the credit union continuously for at least 12 months for interest payments they’ve made on federal student loans in the past year.

And then there’s the forced sabbaticals employees must take for their 15- and 25-year anniversaries. The program is one of the ways the credit union promotes a healthy work-life balance and encourages staff members to grow.

They need to really sign off to get the benefit of the sabbatical, Freeman says. So they cannot spend any time working while they are out.

The sabbatical consists of four weeks of continuous leave. During this time, the credit union pays the employee their full salary and benefits, but it shuts off their access to emails and the credit union phone system.

We’ve have had a handful of staff take their sabbaticals. It’s been a phenomenal experience for those who have left and come back.

Before leaving for sabbatical, each employee must cross-train peers, direct reports, or managers to handle their job duties. But that’s another benefit of the sabbatical, it allows team members to grow by learning new functions.

And while employees at the credit union practice new skills, the employee on sabbatical gets to regenerate so they can come back to work with a fresh outlook.

We’ve have had a handful of staff take their sabbaticals, Freeman says. It’s been a phenomenal experience for those who have left and come back.

The best part of the Year of the Employee, however, might be that many of the events and initiatives did not end on Dec. 31, 2015.

Because the committee did things that were meaningful, we were able to continue nearly all of our activities that began in the Year of the Employee, Freeman says. Very few of the initiatives were one and done.

For credit unions that want to enhance their work environment, Freeman has some advice.

First, the credit union placed importance on employee ideas, and the committee focused on a variety of employee interests as it planned the monthly events. Regarding those events, Freeman has some advice there, too.

We found sometimes the little things meant the most, the SVP reflects. It didn’t cost a lot to bring folks together for lunch or an afternoon surprise, but the engagement and interest from staff at all levels has enhanced the work environment.

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