Corporate credit union human resources departments are working overtime helping their employees cope with a tough task: watching an angry industry determine their future.
"I think our employees are doing extremely well, all things considered," said Kristi Hess, director of human resources at $36 billion U.S. Central Federal Credit Union.
Hess said many U.S. Central employees have been on the job more than 10 years, and the corporate's sudden and drastic change of fortune is especially scary for them. Fortunately, co-workers are leveraging their years together in the trenches into a support network, she said.
"We're all trying to focus on the foundation of what has made U.S. Central such a great place to work, and that's the people," Hess said. "Now is the time that statement is being tested, and I think we're really living up to it, looking out for one another, asking each other how we're doing, how we're holding up, things like that."
The corporate is keeping employees updated on its financial position by holding town hall staff meetings that feature President/CEO Francis Lee and senior managers answering employee questions. The most recent town hall was Jan. 30, and another is scheduled for early March.
Western Corporate Federal Credit Union is also cranking up its employee communication efforts up a notch, too. WesCorp scrapped its annual all-staff training day agenda earlier this month in favor of a town hall meeting that featured President/CEO Bob Siravo answering employee questions about WesCorp, the corporate system, a local economy that's on the ropes. Both the U.S. Central and WesCorp events included ways employees could anonymously submit questions.
"Like any other place of business in this area, people are cautiously optimistic," said Michelle Esser, WesCorp vice president of human resources. "This isn't just about WesCorp, people are nervous in general about the economy. It's a scary time and you can really feel it."
Layoffs are becoming more common among credit unions, but WesCorp hasn't had to furlough any employees, Esser said. Siravo told employees during the all-staff meeting that he'll make whatever sacrifices necessary to save jobs.
Siravo also asked employees to raise their hands if they had any family members or close friends who had lost their jobs or had hours reduced as a result of the bad economy. Esser said roughly two-thirds raised their hands.
Both Hess and Esser said they've increased awareness of employee assistance plan benefits lately, including access to low- or no-cost therapy sessions. And, they agreed, 401(k) balances are also at the top of employee worry lists.
"Not only are more people asking about EAP, but because we're a credit union, they'll often talk to us about their problems before going to EAP," Esser said.
WesCorp has made outsourced financial education and debt-reduction plan information available to employees because those struggling financially may be embarrassed or scared to discuss it at work.
Esser and another WesCorp employee, Director of Public Relations Walter Laskos, had previous careers in the clergy. Both said co-workers frequently ask for their advice because of their backgrounds, and they give it. However, both admit their legal obligations on the job?California requires managers report harassment regardless of whether the employee wishes to file a complaint for starters?limits their ability to get too involved.
Employees have many resources to choose from, but who's taking care of senior management? It's lonely at the top, but both Hess and Esser said their executive teams seem to be holding up okay, leaning on family and each other.
"I report directly to Kathy [Brick, chief financial officer], and I can't even imagine the stress she's feeling," Hess said. "I check in with the senior management group on a frequent basis, and everybody who works for them is watching out for them. They all have great support systems outside U.S. Central, too."
Esser said Siravo has an uncanny ability to relax under pressure, and said he seems to be maintaining his usual optimistic demeanor. The HR professional said she's spending more time in executive offices these days anyway, keeping Siravo and senior managers updated on how their employees are holding up and lending them a willing ear for venting.
WesCorp is also utilizing low-cost, high-touch human resources activities to keep morale high. Previously secured doors leading to the human resources department are now wide open, the dress code has relaxed and HR is sponsoring karaoke lunch hours.
"Believe it or not, our staff loves it, and we have some amazing singers here, it gets pretty competitive," she said.
"I charged my HR team with making the staff happy without costing money and taking away from work," Esser said. "I think we have a good reputation for people feeling like they can talk to us. We'll do anything we can that's relaxing or resource driven."