Study Examines CU Employees Beliefs, Weak Points

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There's been a great deal of discussion surrounding what members and consumers think of credit unions, but what do credit union employees think both of their employer and credit unions in general?

One study has produced some answers.

In a new report published by the Filene Research Instittute, John B. Gatewood of Lehigh University and John W. G. Lowe of the Cultural Analysis Group measured the attitudes of credit union staffers toward their employers in a report entitled "Employee Perceptions of Credit Unions."

According to Filene, the goal was to probe for more than just superficial responses to the question. The researchers looked for important motivators and influences that an employee may not be aware of, or may be unable to articulate. To understand what and how employees think about credit unions, Gatewood and Lowe evaluated employee attitudes in-depth at two credit unions, and produced a survey instrument that can be used for study on a larger scale, Filene reported.

The study worked with a group of 30 employees at all levels of responsibility and with a variety of ages, gender, length of employment, and background in financial institutions. "The study confirmed that employees have enough shared beliefs, values, knowledge and attitudes to qualify as a culture of modest strength," Filene stated. "The cultural strength varied in different dimensions."

According to the study, on two key dimensions employees showed a very strong sharing of beliefs: The characteristics of an ideal financial institution and the characteristics of credit unions. Employees also showed consensus in their beliefs about credit union values, the basic idea of credit unions, and the role of credit union employees, the researchers said.

"At the same time, employees exhibited a marginal commonality in their views of bank characteristics," according to the authors. "Weak levels of commonality also appeared in regard to the appeal that credit unions have for them personally. Especially weak was shared knowledge of member attitudes about credit unions and knowledge of the larger context of credit unions."

Overall, employees shared a sense of doing their jobs well, with focus on members and service, the survey found. They also believed they could earn more money elsewhere, indicating that they like what they do at the credit union.

In their analysis, the authors said the study suggests that CEOs may want to work to develop a stronger view of credit unions among employees to nurture a sense of shared mission, and to help employees perceive whether members and potential members think credit union membership is special.

"A strong case can be made that credit unions should market the credit union to their staff before marketing it to members," says Filene Director of Research George Hofheimer, "because the impression that members and potential members hold of the credit union comes from interaction with the staff or with technology designed by the staff. But before marketing the credit union to staff, we need to understand their current attitudes."

Hofheimer said this research has developed a useful tool to survey a larger sample of employees and can be used to draw more generalized conclusions.

At a minimum, CEOs may wish to consider whether their employees' views are similar to those expressed in the research. Management can then determine how to encourage key beliefs, values, and attitudes among employees, Hofheimer added.

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