In the credit union world, we’re people helping people, right? That idea makes a good mission statement, but it often seems like the generosity and goodwill apply only to the members and not the credit union employees. In April, our YMC “Level Up Book Club” read Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book Dying for a Paycheck.
In this book, Pfeffer observes that the physical risks of working in dangerous places like coal mines, oil rigs, and chemical plants have been largely eliminated by the oversight of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
However, the stressful nature of the modern work environment isn’t subject to OSHA reporting or government regulation. It is simply accepted as the nature of the beast. Pfeffer maintains that today’s workers face unrelenting job demands that are characterized by unrealistic deadlines, insufficient resources, and an increasingly diminished distinction between work life and home life.
Pfeffer points to a startling contrast in how companies are responding to increasing customer expectations of economic stewardship and corporate social responsibility. Too many organizations focus exclusively on customer demands and show little concern for the toll that working conditions take on employees who are forced to manage increased workloads with fewer resources.
You don’t have to look very hard to find data that supports Pfeffer’s claims. Employee surveys identify stress as both the number one problem at work and the number one reason for seeking opportunities elsewhere. It’s estimated that the physical consequences of workplace stress cost the U.S. healthcare system as much as $200 billion per year. And the stress-related costs don’t stop there. U.S. employers lose more than $300 billion annually due to employee turnover and lost productivity.
With a mantra of “people helping people,” it seems like credit unions would be immune to this trend. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I know several credit union employees who spend the majority of evenings at their office, sometimes not leaving until after 9:00 PM. In fact, one small credit union ended up accepting a merger offer from a larger credit union due to the unsustainable workload of the CEO. Not only are credit unions losing good employees due to stress, but our industry is losing good credit unions because of it as well.
Although we’re not technically a credit union, we have experienced the same struggle at YMC. We’ve grown substantially over the last few years. In an effort to be good stewards of the monthly retainers our clients pay us, we’ve operated very lean. Too lean. Over the past few years, we’ve taken steps to care for our team members, steps that include covering 100% of their health insurance and offering matching 401k opportunities. But even with those additions in place, we recently realized those benefits were only scratching the surface.
After hearing “no” from a few extremely talented people we were trying to recruit, we knew we had to address our paid time off policy as well. In April, we announced that effective immediately we would almost double the amount of paid vacation time our team would receive. We made this move to encourage our team members to take time to recharge—not only so they can be fresh and ready to serve our clients better but for the sake of their own health as well.
We need to examine just how deep our “people helping people” commitment goes. Are we people helping members, or do we go the extra mile to help all people, our own team members included? There comes a point where frugality and calculated business practices begin to undercut the social justices we wish to stamp out for our members. When the bottom line numbers become more important than our frontline team members, it’s time to make a change.
Every change has to start somewhere. Where will you begin within your credit union? Which policy could you change today to show your team that you care as much about them as you do about your members? What impact could that change have on their lives and the lives of their family? What will the ROI be when your team members can recharge and consistently give you their best?
Your answers to these questions will determine whether you create a credit union that only serves your members or a thriving financial institution that benefits your members, your team, and your entire community.