STRESS & IT

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Although employees work under "heavy stress," and managers are hurting for specialized skills, Information Technology staffing is "adequate," according to three credit unions of various sizes.

"The demand to turn jobs around in shorter periods of time, coupled with increasing demands on our staff to multi-task, can take its toll," said Ron Woodbury, chief information and administrative officer at $700-million Altura Credit Union in Riverside, Calif. "But our business process management (BPM) systems are beginning to filter out some of the noise, freeing up valuable resources for those projects that provide a real bang for the buck."

IT staff may be under the same gun as the rest of the country's workforce. More than two-thirds of employees feel "high stress" in their jobs, according to a ComPsych Corp. survey of about 1,000 client companies early this year.

John Wintermeier's IT staff of seven full-time employees at Achieva CU is also feeling the crunch. The $475-million CU's vice president of technology rated his staff's stress level a lofty 8.5 out of 10, with 10 being the most stressed.

And Tom Parsons, IT director at $80-million Woodstone CU in Federal Way, Wash., agreed that there's "heavy stress"-but that the stress is "manageable." That's because when the going gets tough for Parsons' two-person IT staff, Parson outsources.

"If I feel the work level is creating anxiety, I call in our third-party contract person to assist," Parsons continued. "This gives the staff the confidence that the credit union will provide assistance when it is needed to keep our production levels up."

And technology itself, in the form of BPM systems, helps Woodbury and his 16-person staff cope. In addition, Altura recently reorganized the network support department to "more effectively and efficiently support the needs of the credit union and our affiliate operations, Mortgage, Insurance and Auto Locator," Woodbury said.

The team at Achieva CU allays stress with a little fun and games: Company dartboards, stress balls and regular contests are available to lighten up things, Wintermeier said.

Not all IT managers are sweating it out. Nick Mesecher, Technology administrator and one-man IT show at $56-million Reliant FCU in Casper, Wyo., has some rough days, but overall stress is "very low," he said. "The employees all seem to understand the amount of tasks I have to take on and are very good about waiting for assistance," Mesecher explained.

That doesn't keep Mesecher from wishing for a mini-Mesecher. "I sometimes wish I could clone myself," he added. "There are times as the IT guy that I seem to be running in every direction fixing problems. I only wish for a clone to take care of some of the smaller issues so that I could tackle major tasks."

None of the credit unions has laid off IT employees in the past six months. In fact, all are looking for specialized IT skills.

Largo, Fla.-based Achieva CU has two open positions, Wintermeier said. Techies who have "quality" experience with voice, web and database systems are hardest to find, he said.

Achieva tries to attract IT talent with special training, he continued. "I believe we budget the most training dollars for one specific department at our credit union. "We recently hired an IT manager, so I think we will start doing a better job soon" of managing the stress, he added.

In addition, the credit union's Human Resources department "keeps up" with IT salary trends and offers flexible schedules and telecommuting with free broadband access and cellular phone service included, he said.

Meanwhile, Woodbury said networking skills are scarce and he's looking for a network administrator.

But Altura doesn't offer the red carpet treatment in order to bolster staffing, Woodbury said. "We do not offer any benefits that are unique to the technology teams," although IT salaries at Altura CU remain competitive, he explained.

CUJ Resources

For more info on this story:

* Achieva CU at www.achievacu.com

* Altura CU at www.alturacu.com

* Reliant FCU at www.reliantfcu.com

* Woodstone CU at www.woodstonecu.org

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