Forget about member loyalty, employee loyalty is all that matters now

This was a hard title for me to write because I firmly believe if members are fiercely loyal to your credit union, they will market for you, buy more from you and are more profitable. What is at the center of building a loyal relationship with your members? Loyal employees. Without it, you’re at a greater risk than you know.  

Swiss Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler Ross authored an amazing book called “On Death and Dying” that introduced us to the psychological cycle you go through during the grieving process. It is not just about dying; throughout life we experience many instances of grief. Grief can be caused by situations, relationships, or even substance abuse. 

I found this amazing article on MDVIP that breaks down the five stages and how this applies to the COVID-19 world we are all immersed in. See if you can relate to any of these feelings: 

Stage 1: Denial. “This virus is being overblown. I won’t stop going about my life because of what some TV reporter tells me.”

Stage 2: Anger. “I’m furious I can’t go on my cruise. I know how to wash my hands.”

Stage 3: Bargaining. “Fine, you can get me to stay home most of the time. But I’m still going to run my usual errands to the grocery store and bank.”

Stage 4: Depression. “Being stuck at home is miserable. I miss seeing my friends and family. When will it end?”

Stage 5: Acceptance. “I’m getting used to the new normal. At least I can still enjoy phone calls. What can I do to help others?”

I would venture to guess that most of us have hit the first 4 stages. I know I have and it’s time to move into acceptance. I’ll go with you. 

The calendar has been playing tricks on us. First, we were promised that when it got “warmer” and the flu season usually dies down (probably a bad choice of words there, sorry) it should let up too. I accept this is in no way a seasonal thing and the regular flu season will be upon us soon and it will feel like a tsunami. 

Then, we weren’t promised it, but I think many assumed that when Fall came, schools would open again and that horrible experience of being forced to not only try and work from home, but make sure my kids are doing their schoolwork will never be a reality again. 

And yet here we are. We need to accept it and we desperately need to get creative with our accommodations for working parents of school age children. I am not one of those, but I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who is very professional, a great mom and a dedicated employee. Here’s what she shared with me: 

She said she feels like she’s a horrible mother. She works in marketing which many see as non-essential in a time like this, so she is desperately trying to make herself indispensable by working hard on retooling their messaging and being “online” and active in emails as much as possible so they don’t think she’s not working. You ask, how does she get this done AND make sure her daughter is getting a good education? By yelling at her to leave her alone and do her homework! And then, she burst into tears on the phone. She also shared that she is an extrovert and going to work fuels her because of the interaction with adult co-workers. It gives her the energy to come home and enjoy those precious moments with her baby girl. Unfortunately, now the drive to survive has taken over. 

Which brings me to my next observation of another well-known psychological reference, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow published a paper in 1943 that illustrated the “theory of human motivation.” 

Susan Mitchell wrote an amazing piece on CUInsight in May of this year that did a great job of explaining it in a time of crisis. She refers to the People Pandemic, where we have been rocked back to our core (the bottom rung of the pyramid) focusing on the most basic needs, food, shelter, and hygiene. This explains why people were hoarding toilet paper and making hand sanitizer out of vodka and aloe vera lotion.

Like the stages of grief there are five levels of the human motivation pyramid, and the belief is that you cannot move up the pyramid unless the needs are met at the lower levels. Here they are in order from the bottom to the top:

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety needs
  • Love and Belonging needs
  • Esteem needs
  • Self-actualization

Before COVID, credit union management didn’t have to worry too much about the bottom two because a paycheck brings financial security and stable employment and a safe work environment are kind of a given in a well-managed, caring culture. All of which, credit unions are known for. Credit unions have even been accused of being ‘too nice’ and aren’t quick to downsize or layoff people – they truly are seen as our greatest asset…or so we said. 

But now we have a double-edged sword. Our financial assets are at tremendous risk at the same time our people are shell shocked. Think of your last core conversion, or when you rolled out a big new product. Did that disrupt your culture a bit? Change is hard for most people, and it probably felt like the first day on the job again – you have so much to learn. Of course, it rocked them. How do you think your employees are feeling today?


In most credit unions that I’ve worked in and consulted with, communication is always cited as one of the top things they need to improve on. I’ve honestly never heard this in a credit union, describing a problem with their culture, “There’s WAY too much communication from management.” In fact, it’s the exact opposite. 

And that was pre-COVID. We weren’t good at it when we were all under one roof. Now imagine your employees have been exiled to their home, with their kids, the schools are teaching them “how to teach” and the credit union is still trying to figure out how to have effective virtual meetings, training, and keep projects moving along. 

So how can you build employee loyalty in a time of social distancing, mandatory home schooling, and the COVID crankiness we are all experiencing? 

We need to have some fun. 

That’s right. Stop working and start playing.  There is no playbook written for how to manage your staff during a global pandemic. We are all writing this together. This is a horrible time in history. Awful. Makes me want to scream. 

At PixelSpoke (a digital marketing company for credit unions) they asked employees to describe their new “co-worker.” The funniest one wins. We all have at least one child, pet or partner who, for better or for worse, has been seeing a lot more of us these days. These are my two favorites: 

“My co-worker prioritizes naps over real work, but she does trade in naps on occasion for strategic-thinking sessions looking out the window.” (co-worker: cat)

“One of my coworkers refuses to wear pants. It’s very unprofessional. The other one keeps interrupting my meetings to ask for cheese sticks.” (co-workers: young kids)

Another great idea requires employees take “mental health time” each day. Think of this as a company wellness program for the brain, not just physical health. 

And for those of you that have already gone down the path of distrust and scrutiny of the virtual employee, consider this … 53% of financial services respondents to a survey had said that productivity has stayed the same and 20% said it’s actually improved. The rest? They were probably not as productive as they could have been before COVID. You’ll never hit 100% so don’t get derailed by notions that you should install some kind of big brother device to make sure you’re getting your “money’s worth.”

If your employees are not happy, don’t feel secure, are stressed out about increased demands for their time, and are “in the dark” most of the time, you will lose good employees and consequently good members. 

Maybe we should all begin by changing Human Resources to Happy Resources? 

I would love to hear what creative and fun things you are doing for your employees during this COVID crisis.

Denise Wymore

Denise Wymore

Denise started her credit union career over 30 years ago as a Teller for Pacific NW Federal Credit Union in Portland, Oregon. She moved up and around the org. chart ... Web: Details