Credit union employees 'clearly not taking enough' time off

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The coronavirus forced credit unions to quickly rework many of their paid time off benefits for employees, but the ongoing nature of the pandemic and the likelihood that it could stretch into next year have forced many institutions to continually update those policies.

Across the asset spectrum, the vast majority of institutions included in this year’s Best Credit Unions to Work For rankings reported some sort of modification to PTO protocols in the wake of COVID-19. Employees at many CUs are taking advantage of new flexibilities for staying home with family members who are sick or children starting the year with virtual school.

But because of fears surrounding how the virus spreads and concerns about travel, many Americans are not taking vacations. That's leaving many credit unions with sizable pools of employees who have significant amounts of unused vacation time left for 2020.

A new study from ValuePenguin, a division of LendingTree, found 44% of American workers did not use any of their paid time off this summer and 22% took less time off than normal. A whopping 72% of American consumers didn’t take vacations this year, according to the research.

“Americans have always prided themselves on working hard and having a blue-collar work ethic, and working hard is great but the truth is Americans don’t take enough time off of work and it’s not good for us,” said Matt Schultz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree. “When times are stressful — and certainly 2020 has been one of the most stressful years we’ve been through — people need breaks, and the survey shows we’re clearly not taking enough of them.”

Many credit unions said they’ve seen a higher-than-usual number of employees holding back from using vacation time this year. With that in mind, some CUs have temporarily lifted requirements on the minimum number of consecutive business days taken for vacation during the year, a common rule many financial institutions use as part of their internal fraud-prevention strategies.

Easing of those policies has contributed to fewer vacations at Fairwinds Credit Union in Orlando, Fla., this year. Cathy Hertz, EVP of human resources, said management discussed the fraud-prevention issue before approving the change, and the program will sunset at year-end, with the regular policy resuming at the start of 2021. Hertz said the credit union continually performs internal audits and evaluations of staff members to monitor for fraud, and leadership is confident that adequate safeguards are in place.

Fairwinds and others have also modified guidelines around carrying over or selling back unused vacation time. Coastal Federal Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C., allows staff members to carry over some unused vacation time into the following year or sell back a certain amount, and will do so at least through next year.

“We relaxed some of those requirements because we didn’t want to put pressure on people to use your time off,” said Joe Mecca, VP of communications. “There are fewer opportunities to use that time [and] we know they might benefit from selling back more than they have in the past.”

Going too long without taking time off, said Schultz, can contribute to job burnout and extra stress in personal relationships and other aspects of life, “which is the last thing any of us need right now. The truth is that even though we may not be able to fly off to Paris or get on a plane and go across the country, there are still plenty of opportunities to get out to do something a little different," such as short road trips. " … These may not be trips that would be at the top of your list in normal times, but they can still be really useful and stress-reducing.”

Ohio-based Atomic Credit Union has not seen staff members putting PTO usage on hold, but many are taking time off in shorter amounts or doing staycations rather than traveling. Management is permitting extended carryover of vacation and sick time into next year. While it hasn’t made a decision for 2022, Julie Maple, VP of human resources, said many of Atomic's policies have been based around provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act.

“If that gets extended … past Dec. 31, [2020], we would definitely consider extending things for our employees into 2022,” she said.

Some credit unions this fall are also seeing employees use time off to help school-age children with virtual learning. About 30 Fairwinds employees are working from home in order to support virtual learning, while an additional 16 have taken paid leave available to them through the Families First legislation in order to help kids attending school online.

For those working while kids are home, “We set parameters in place at the beginning of the school year,” explained Hertz. “Crew members had to be available four [consecutive] hours out of what we consider to be our standard business hours … [and] the other four hours could be done before or after work as long as they satisfy their responsibilities.”

About 80% of Coastal’s workforce is currently working at home and the credit union has not seen a spike in PTO usage on account of virtual schooling. “It sounds like most people are managing the balance,” said Mecca.

None of the credit unions interviewed for this story said they expected any issues with cost management as a result of PTO policy changes. The time and expense had already been allocated in the budgets, many said, so the only difference is how and when that time gets used.

Many institutions have also seen lower costs than expected this year due to unplanned expense reductions.

“There’s expenses we’re not seeing because of a lack of opportunities to do them,” said Mecca. “We always do a big employee party; that didn’t happen this year. … You’re seeing other expenses [such as travel] that have just gone away for lack of opportunity to do them.”

Most credit unions have been up front that these modifications are temporary, but the longer they last, employees may expect them to become permanent.

“One of the lasting effects of the pandemic for businesses is that it will have forced them to become more flexible and understand how important that is for employees,” said Schultz. “Every business is going to approach that differently, but I think that’s something that is no longer going to be a theoretical thing. The pandemic will have given us all a real-life example of how these things can work and then companies just need to decide how they want to go going forward.”

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