Credit unions altering perks and policies to respond to staff under stress

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As credit union executives navigated the uncharted territory of COVID-19 this spring and summer, new programs and measures were taken to better help employees and their families assimilate to a new normal.

Serena Stancati, AVP of benefits and compensation at Heritage Federal Credit Union in Newburgh, Ind., said management there quickly realized the stress that the uncertainty related to the pandemic was causing for staff on both a professional and personal level. With that in mind, the credit union quickly rolled out a new benefit starting in March, providing two weeks of extra time off (ETO) for full-time and part-time associates.

Heritage Federal Credit Union employees deliver personal protective equipment to a local hospital.
Heritage Federal Credit Union employees deliver personal protective equipment to a local hospital.

Heritage Federal supports 593 employees, and Stancati said to date 96% of staff have used the allotted ETO, which is available for any pandemic-related needs. Staff members have used the time for taking care of kids when schools closed, assisting family members who have fallen ill or in some cases self-quarantining.

“Associates who did not have an actual need to take their ETO used it for several other reasons, such as fear of exposure to the virus, to take time for themselves to decompress and to spend quality time with their families,” said Stancati.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), enacted in March 2020 and amended by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, required many employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid sick time and paid leave for child care needs.

While the pandemic some employers were forced to either lay off or furlough employees, Nusenda Credit Union developed a Pandemic Leave Program for staff, ensuring that any employee impacted by the outbreak would be paid in full.

“When schools closed and employees had to stay home to care for their children, we continued to pay them as if they worked their regular schedule,” explained Michelle Dearholt, EVP of operations at the $2.9 billion-asset credit union. “Emergency pandemic pay was also awarded to employees exposed to COVID-19, sick with the illness, or caring for someone that was sick and had to miss work.”

Albuquerque-based Nusenda supports 601 employees, including student interns.

The credit union also made efforts to ensure employees could continue working through the pandemic, including offering a Kids Camp house in large training rooms on the Nusenda campus.

“Volunteer employees with backgrounds in early childhood education staffed the camp, and developed detailed and interactive activity plans for each day,” said Dearholt, adding that now that the program has ended, the credit union has partnered with a daycare to provide discounts for participating staff members.

Public schools in Nusenda’s service area have a virtual fall schedule this year, and Dearholt said the credit union continues look for the best ways to support employees with school-aged children.

“We offer flexible approaches to scheduling, job sharing and job swapping where viable. Branch employees with dependent children at home have the flexibility to job share working some days as virtual tellers or as contact center agents from home,” she said. “For all our remote employees supporting school-aged children, we’re practicing flexibility and understanding when a parent needs to tend to their child’s learning needs, using the option of windowed work, and extended our definition of standard hours beyond pre-pandemic times.”

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