Retention-Getter: How Some Credit Unions Are Making Changes To The Physical Workplace

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Are there employee retention devices beyond just salary and benefits?

Yes, suggest one group of experts, who say the quality of a credit union's physical workplace should be added to that list.

"There's a real trend right now of doing things to create a high level of employee comfort," said Paul Barrath of HBE. "And it's not just paying attention to ergonomics, it's about customization. We've got furniture that has adjustable height on just about everything. Even the height of a desk. Now, you can raise the desk so you could stand and type if you wanted to. Everything is modular and adjustable."

Indeed, Barrath said credit unions should be aware of developments in furniture, including a desk "system" that's on an arc so an employee can turn the desk and face a different direction, for example, instead of being stuck in the classic "L"-shaped desk. Chairs come with removable and adjustable arms and lumbar support. Computer mice and keyboards are wireless so they can be placed wherever an employee wants them.

"It's about allowing the employee a little more latitude so they're not so wired to the computer," he suggested.

Developments in employee comfort are not confined to just work station equipment-even the very walls themselves in some credit unions are are modular and adjustable. Barrath said walls of the typical employee cubicle can be made half walls if it's a position that requires more supervision, versus fuller walls for positions that require more privacy.

No matter how ergonomic and customized a work space is, however, sometimes employees need to get away. Indeed, one of the first amenities mentioned by Lee Kingston, an architect with DEI in Cincinnati, is an old standby that is starting to garner more attention: the breakroom. Kingston suggested credit unions invest in "nicer breakrooms that provide exterior exposure to employees, such as designing and building a patio or deck as we did for Pacific NW FCU" in Portland, Ore.

Barrath agreed. "We're seeing some really nice employee lounges," he commented. "It's not just a room. We're seeing plenty of windows and courtyards, areas for smokers. Gazebos both enclosed or not. Some credit unions are even offering lunch facilities that include vending areas where they can heat up the meal, and some do have kitchens."

Creating a pleasant place to get away from work while at work has become a bigger priority ever since studies began showing how much more productive employees are when they are encouraged to take breaks-particularly for call center representatives.

"On the phone service side, we're seeing the importance of a breakroom service area with lounge chairs where they can relax and read a magazine or watch TV," Barrath explained. "It's a high-stress job, and it's really important for them to be able to go to a completely different environment. These are jobs where they have to take off so many minutes per hour, so we're seeing recliners; really nice furniture."

Seeing The Light

Kingston concurred, adding, "Because call centers have a high employee turnover and every employee needs the exposure to daylight, designing natural light into these areas is important."

Moreover, keeping in mind who uses what space for which purpose during the day is an important element. "When designing rooms such as copy rooms, mail rooms, bathrooms, etc., they need to be convenient for those that use it the most," Kingston commented.

This same attention to detail with the employee in mind should be applied externally, too. "When you're laying out a facility, you want to make sure you have adequate employee parking that is safe and well-lit," he advised.

Northwest FCU in Herndon, Va., for example, set up "Code Blue" stations in the parking lot where employees can press a button that sets off an alarm and starts a surveillance camera rolling. They can also use a phone at the station to get help if they're having car trouble, for example.

The credit union is located next to a park with a jogging track, so the building was situated to look down on the park area, and there are outdoor decks and patios where the credit union has barbecues for the employees from time to time.

"You have to give credit unions a lot of credit. They are proud of their employees and want to take care of them," said Barrath.

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