At a time when employee retention and recruitment are top priorities, being recognized as a best place to work can be a boon.
According to the Great Place to Work Institute, while the companies recognized are generally driven by a fundamental philosophy that it's the right thing to do, there are definite business benefits, such as lower turnover, better applicant pools and external awards and recognition. In addition, best workplaces report greater product innovation, resiliency during change, stronger client relationships and better long-term growth.
According to Gail Figueroa, executive vice president at AMOCO Federal Credit Union, which was recently named one of the Houston Chronicle's Top Workplaces, communication has been key.
"We are very conscious about keeping employees informed and that in itself goes a long way in making our employees feel valued," said Figueroa. "We also give personally signed birthday cards along with a gift card to a local restaurant. We make all staff aware when an employee goes above and beyond to help a member, but most importantly, we keep employees informed and encourage feedback."
For the last five years, the Houston-based credit union has conducted employee surveys where staffers can rate everything from their feelings about the direction AMOCO FCU is headed, to offering feedback on their direct supervisor, and many other topics. Figueroa said that although it may not always be what the employee wants to see or hear, every concern and comment that is mentioned in the survey gets addressed.
An investment in internal communications certainly proved beneficial for ESL Federal Credit Union and helped the Rochester, N.Y.-based credit union make the cut of the Great Place to Work Top 25 Medium Companies. ESL was the only credit union on the list and ranked 12th.
"We're always focused on employee communication and have a group of three in my department dedicated to internal communication and events," said Maureen Wolfe, ESL vice president/director of people organization development. "We see the fruits of our labor as our employees feel they understand the expectations and have the tools they need to help in their day-to-day job while also keeping up on the latest business updates and fun activities going on as well. For us it's about how do we continue to improve."
Five years ago ESL redesigned its intranet to make it more vibrant and interactive complete with all the information its 620 employees would need at their fingertips, from policies and procedures to training and the latest happenings at the credit union. Wolfe said the result has been a more connected and engaged workforce."We only have about 350 employees at our headquarters and the rest are spread out across our branches and this has been a very important tool to communicate and help everyone feel connected," said Wolfe. "What also helped us improve as an organization has been our pulse surveys where we ask a mix of simple and open-ended questions like what can we improve. We take that feedback seriously and when we do something as a result of the survey we let everyone know you spoke we listened."
Direct feedback from employees led to the complete revamping of ESL's recognition program, which now includes on-the-spot rewards for anything from problem solving on a particular project to having an especially positive interaction with members.
"Our survey revealed there was a lot of opportunity to improve and recognize the effort and good work of our employees, so that also meant providing tools and management training because sometimes a simple thank you can make all the difference," said Wolfe. "We want this to be a culture of appreciation so we have a budget for this and ask our managers are you finding opportunities so that everyone is recognized? Our CEO also discusses the survey results, what's being done and where we can improve during our spring and fall forums in front of every employee. The fact that it's part of the agenda shows that senior management takes what the employees say and feel seriously."
It all speaks to creating an environment where people feel their input matters.
"We try to maintain a culture that our employees enjoy being a part of and promote a fun, caring environment," said Figueroa. "Our employees are the heart of this credit union and we fully understand that we must first take care of our employees so they create an experience for the members that keeps them coming back."
Taking care of its 165 employees has meant encouraging professional growth and education. From tuition reimbursement for full-time and part-time staffers to internal leadership programs, the credit union fully supports its staff and their decision to pursue education, professional development, and leadership training. In 2008, AMOCO created the CU LEAD Program (Credit Union Leadership Enrichment and Development). Approximately 12 participants are chosen to go through the program each year. Running from June to December, monthly meetings are held at an off-site location, and the program covers a variety of topics from employee counseling training to compliance training. Each participant is required to do homework assignments related to each topic, read selected books and do a final presentation to all employees at the all-staff training day in January. The program was designed to provide the skills needed for employees to perform their jobs better and to build their confidence as leaders.
"We will soon be graduating our third class, all of which have been extremely successful. As a result of this leadership program, we have had several internal promotions that likely would not have happened," said Figueroa. "We fully support education-no matter what you are pursuing. As long as the employee wants to better themselves, we are willing to assist. Our part-time employees, many of which attend school, were ecstatic when they found out they would now be reimbursed for their classes."
At ESL, in addition to education, training and development a wellness program has helped address rising healthcare costs and employee retention. A move to a new downtown headquarters provided an opportunity to open a fitness center where staffers can get fit with fun classes like cardio hoop, kickboxing and Zumba or stick with more traditional treadmills, elliptical machines or weights. Wolfe said it has been a way for employees to get involved, make friends and feel good about coming into work. ESL has also partnered with Weight Watchers and even provided walking maps to make it easy for staffers to take advantage of being downtown.
"We knew wellness is just the right thing to do and for us it was a good business focus that will help maintain the cost of healthcare by preventing the incredible spike that comes from say type 2 diabetes for example, by making it easier to have a healthier lifestyle," said Wolfe. "Each year we try to make the program more robust like having the opportunity to work with Weight Watchers, and we'll continue to offer different classes. Our goal is to come up with new and interesting ways while having a little fun."