WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Who needs to compete on reality TV when fame and sometimes even fortune can be had through an Employee-of-the-Year program. With employee retention high on credit union human resource departments' agenda experts say a well-planned employee of the year program can go a long way to help build loyalty and retain top staffers. "Money is not the biggest motivator," said Research Federal Credit Union President/CEO Catherine Roberts. "Telling people from the backoffice to upper management that they do a good job and talking about the qualities of that individual has so much more value. Years ago I went to a funeral and there in the living room above the television was her employee award. She and her family were so proud of it the first thing they did when she first received it was put it on the wall for everyone to see. I never forgot it. We don't realize just how meaningful it is to staff to feel like a valuable part of the organization." Some 12 years ago when Roberts first arrived at the Warren, Michigan-based credit union, staff morale was low so her first step was to create an employee appreciation and recognition program. What started out as just a Distinguished Service Award, which is awarded to the individual who embodies the organization's service excellence philosophy, has grown to include recognition for everything from good humor and pride in workmanship, to creativity, a positive attitude and the "People's Choice". Award categories are based on what happened during the year. Recipients receive a plaque and their names are added to a permanent plaque housed at the credit union. A recent staff survey finds that 95% of Research FCU employees report feeling appreciated within the organization. Haborstone Credit Union Senior Vice President of Human Resources Bruce Cheney agrees such programs are successful as long as employees have trust and faith in management. The Lakewood, Washington-based credit union executive management team selects several employees of the year based on exemplary performance and presents the winners a plaque and check for $1,000. Cheney adds that it is important that the recipients selected are reflective of all employee values so that the program is not viewed as being a "popularity" contest. "Employees have a good sense of fairness, so for such a program to go well management has to make sure it establishes one that is objective and fair," said Cheney. "If they feel something is lacking or off employees won't respond to it. Done well it will unify, inspire and promote camaraderie." A reduced number of submission four years ago prompted Lewiston, Maine-based Ste. Croix Regional Federal Credit Union to tweak its then decade old Employee-of-the-Year program. In addition to making the format more user-friendly, management now selects three individuals and then votes to determine the award recipient. Previously each department would vote for its "own" making the submissions somewhat "clique-ish". Management now takes a more holistic approach and is encouraged to look beyond its departments and look to the organization as a whole. "What also helped is that we implemented thank you cards that could be handed out by peers so that those who do something out of the ordinary can be instantly recognized at anytime," said Ste. Croix RFCU Marketing Vice President Denise Ouellette. "It really fosters a team environment and helps everyone strive to be their best." Ouellette says anticipation of revealing the winners at the annual holiday party keeps the interest in the program high. At Research FCU, the award ceremonies have become spectacular events staffers look forward to every year. With a focus on fun, award days are a big production and can include anything from a magic show or talent show, to having a hypnotist on-site or hosting a "millionaire party" complete with vendor gifts ranging from CD players and hockey tickets. Roberts says they have become such anticipated events that a five-person idea committee was formed to keep the ceremonies unique and exciting. "The element of surprise is key. Employees never know what to expect and we just let them be the focus of the day," said Roberts. "It is such fun and a big morale booster that the enthusiasm carries over well into the next week." [email protected]

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