What impact is the limping economy having on recruiting and retaining employees? To find out, Credit Union Times asked two CU executives who cope with that question everyday-Kim Woollard, senior vice president of human resources at Grow Financial Federal Credit Union in Tampa, Fla., and Mary Kay Jandrew, vice president of human resources at Sunmark Federal Credit Union in Latham, N.Y.It would seem, given headlines announcing widespread layoffs and long lines at career fairs, turnover today would be minimal, with people reluctant to leave their current jobs. It would also seem, when vacancies do occur, HR departments would be flooded with applications.“In general, I think that’s a fair assessment,” Woollard said. She indicated that a year ago she might be trying to fill 30 vacancies at one time. Today, that number is down to about 10. Turnover is at 14%.“Things do become a little more challenging for specific positions that require unique competencies. For example, we’re looking for a financial card services manager right now with a lot of competencies in credit cards.”One challenge is persuading currently employed people to leave their jobs to join Grow. The good news is most positions are filled by local residents, avoiding the problem of someone unable to sell their home in a down market.Job interviews focus on employees doing most of the talking. There are quarterly role-playing sessions for hiring managers to hone interviewing techniques.Woollard “absolutely” agrees with those who believe existing employees can be an excellent source for referrals of new employees.“We are getting 46% of our new hires from our employee referral program. That is exceptionally high. The numbers have gone up in the past quarter about 15%. There is a $350 incentive for a referral after the new employee has been with us for 90 days,” she said.“I think what we’re trying to do is stay on the cutting edge when it comes to recruiting employees through networking. The economy won’t be bad forever. When recruiting becomes difficult again, we’ll be positioned to move forward.”That can mean keeping employees happy so they won’t send out resumes as soon as the job market improves.On the member side, the department often uses surveys to track member viewpoints and identify potential improvements. There’s also feedback from employees to determine what can be done to make their work lives better. Naturally, cost is a factor today.“For example, last year we had to cancel our holiday party. It was just too expensive,” Woollard said. “We wondered what to do to show our employees we still recognized them. We developed something called “Winter Wonderland.” Everyday we did something different.”“On Monday when employees came in, they had a Christmas ornament on their door. The next day they had a homemade gingerbread man on their desks, and we had hot cocoa and hot cider. We had a potluck lunch one day and each department brought in an appetizer or dessert or a side dish. Another day, they had a green and white stocking on their desks that said, ‘Grow Financial’ [and was] filled with Hershey’s Kisses.”“These were little things, but the feedback we got from employees was phenomenal.”Many workforce veterans, no matter what the business, argue that while top management may be wonderful, you can still get stuck under a boss who is less than supportive.As far as Woollard is concerned, such managers don’t last long at Grow. They tend to leave on their own accord.Overall, Woollard likes to think Grow is at the cutting edge in employee recruiting and retention.Jandrew, vice president at Sunmark Federal, said she doesn’t see a lot of people who are job hopping. Even if someone does want to change jobs, they decide the timing may not be right. More of the applications coming in today are from people currently unemployed.So far this year, she noted, Sunmark has only hired two people, both for teller positions. That compares with perhaps eight hires during the same period in a typical year.“We’re evaluating every position that becomes vacant. Not every position is being replaced. So our hiring has actually slowed down significantly in the last two quarters,” Jandrew said.Jandrew does sound a note of caution about hiring in the current job market. She’s found people who are unemployed may not be as forthright as they would be in better times. The available job may not be the career path they want, but they’re willing to take a step down in order to earn a paycheck.A new hire represents a huge investment in time and training, Jandrew emphasized, so the credit union has to carefully assess whether the applicant really wants the position.She agreed referrals from current employees are “very successful.”“People typically don’t refer someone who is a poor performer. Employees share with them our culture. So [new hires] have an idea if we offer the culture they want to work in.”That culture, she points out, does start at the top.“We’re very big on communications. Even in the worst of times. our CEO lets staff know what’s going on. Our CEO has also put out the word, ‘If you have question, e-mail me directly. If you have a question, I can guarantee you other people have the same question.’”“People can accept the environment they work in if they understand why. I can’t think of one manager here who doesn’t have an open door,” Jandrew stated.Like Grow, Sunmark has an employee referral program. An employee can earn up to $500 for a referral. The employee making the referral receives $100 at the time of the hire, and the remainder after the new hire completes a four-month orientation.As for interviews, while Jandrew stressed the credit union observes legal guidelines for questions that can and can’t be asked, open-ended questions such as “What are you doing this weekend?” can encourage applicants to talk and reveal more about their personality.“If they aren’t outgoing and personable, they aren’t going to do well [at Sunmark]. You can train almost anybody in certain skills, but you can’t always train their personality,” she said.Once an employee is on board, Sunmark believes it’s important for them to have fun so they’ll want to stay. Jandrew cites the example of a cost-cutting initiative seeking ideas from employees.“It could be a dry topic, but we’ve actually made it fun,” she said. “Every time a department has a savings, no matter how small-it could be $200-we e-mail the entire credit union. Whoever came up with the idea gets a little light bulb with a smiley face on it. It seems every other day we have a new announcement.”Both employees and applicants are greeted by a banner showing the credit union has won a best places to work award from a local business publication for five years. Jandrew said some employers may say they offer a great working environment, but Sunmark believes the fact the award is based on recommendations by employees themselves is significant.“It’s a valued award,” she stated.–[email protected]

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