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SPRINGFIELD, Ore. – With the fierce competition here for top talent, Northwest Community Credit Union (NWCU) has been fine-tuning its employee benefits to stand out and it seems to be working. In March, 2005 the $475 million credit union was not only ranked 15th among the Best 100 small companies to work for in the state but it also ranked third in employee benefits among all small companies by Oregon Business Magazine. As part of the Oregon Business survey, NWCU’s more than 220 employees across the state responded to questionnaires on a variety of workplace-related topics including: work environment; performance management; career development and learning; decision making and trust; and employee benefits. “We really look at all our policies and benefits to ensure there is an employee and family focus,” said NWCU Human Resources Vice President Vicki Roessler. “We’re always telling our employees to focus on the member and build partnerships but we need to provide an added value for the employees and let them know that they are a partner here and they should expect and receive something back from us as well so they can have a balanced work life and home life.” Roessler adds that more than 35% of employees have been with the credit union for over 10 years. “People want to stay and we don’t have a problem filling positions here,” said Roessler. “We don’t stand on titles here and encourage employees to talk to us. We started profit sharing about two years ago and everyone gets the same amount from teller to EVP. We do that because we feel every single person contributes equally to the organization and it reinforces our commitment to the employees.” Part of the equality concept can be seen in the CU’s hiring process, which is not centralized since NWCU has some 13 branches across the state in 12 counties. As a solution the group that needs the position filled conducts the interviews and selects new hires. For example if a new teller is needed then existing tellers are the ones doing the interviewing and hiring. In addition, each new hire’s picture and name is immediately placed on the NWCU intranet and the HR staffers make a point to introduce themselves. “It is an important aspect of retention that these new hires were picked by the very people they will be working with and we believe that helps them be successful and makes for a great working environment,” said Roessler. NWCU employee benefits range from health insurance covering domestic partner benefits; vision insurance; flexible spending 125 Plan; and long term care to a 200% match program on 401Ks up to 10% of staffers’ annual salary and a 160-hour minimum paid time off pool which can increase to a maximum of 320 hours. In addition employees can roll unused time up to two weeks into the following year. Those already at the maximum limit receive a two-week cash payout before Christmas. “Our philosophy is if you want to take time off or need time off take it so that way when staffers are here they are able to give 100%,” said Roessler. “It is also saying something that for five years in a row there have been no medical insurance increases-that is huge.” NWCU also places an emphasis on promoting higher learning. Educational assistance is paid up front $1,000 quarter for full-time staff and $500 for part-time staff plus books. Employees can also take an educational leave of absence. “For us the typical reimbursement route didn’t work because some people aren’t able to afford the classes in the first place so it doesn’t really help them if we make them pay first,” said Roessler. “This way by paying up front employees can get started right away and concentrate on passing the class. Of course the classes have to be applicable to the job so for example a sign language class for a call center rep doesn’t count. We want our employees to improve themselves- it makes for happier employees and those skills and knowledge can ultimately benefit the credit union.” Examples of recent higher learning graduates include NWCU Marketing Vice President Kent White and Controller Pat Force who earned their Masters in Business Administration (MBA). White received his degree from the Oregon Executive MBA (OEMBA) program, which is a partnership between Oregon’s three largest public universities – the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Portland State University – with a mission is to educate high-potential executives in business theory and practice for strategic decision making in a competitive, global economy. Force earned his degree from the University of Phoenix’s online MBA. The University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private university, specializing in the education of working adults. Despite having an HR department of three, including a part timer, Roessler says they are not only able to effectively gauge the pulse of employee and management needs but also thanks to a wide network of HR professional contacts and organizations, stay on top of the latest HR trends. The only outsourced HR function is negotiation of the insurance contract, which is handled by a broker. “Our employees have rated us high in trust and decision making at 90.1% and the work environment at 93.1% and I think it is because they know they can talk to us anytime and that confidentiality counts,” said Roessler. “We are also always looking for ways to improve and are open to new ideas and new things. The more educated we are the more people we can get out in the community and the more professionals we meet the more the credit union benefits.” Roessler says like any organization, training is one of the biggest challenges and the credit union is looking into offering video conferences as a possible solution. The HR department is also working on a software program to create specific performance reviews for each position. “What I’ve heard from banks or other types of industries is `Wow you actually put a comment on the bottom of everyone’s performance review and sign it yourself?’,” said Roessler. “And it is that nurturing and personal touch for example of taking the time to learn each employee’s name or giving a hug that can make all the difference.” [email protected]

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