Why Some Credit Unions Are Making the Lists of Great Places to Work

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A number of credit unions nationally have been recognized for being more than just great places to have an account-they are also great places to work.

At Spokane Teachers Credit Union here, officials like to share credit with their employees, especially after being selected as one of the top 10 small and medium-size companies to work for in America.

Each of Spokane Teachers' 275 employees will eventually position the Great Places to Work trophy on their desk.

"That will take a while," said Steve Dahlstrom, Spokane Teachers CEO. "Hey, they won it, they need to benefit."

Great Places to Work and the Society of Human Resource Management recently announced the winners with the best work environment for small and medium companies. Nationwide, Spokane Teachers CU placed seventh out of the top 25; Digital Credit Union of Marlborough, Mass. was named 13th; North Island Credit Union, San Diego, came in 21st place. In the small business-only category, San Francisco-based Pacific Service Credit Union placed eighth out of 25, nationally.

The Great Place to Work Institute takes random surveys of employees with dozens of questions gauging if you "trust the people you work for, have pride in what you do and enjoy the people you work with." The survey is divided into five categories: credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie.

Dahlstrom said among other perks, his employees enjoy 100% vesting in retirement plans from their first day on the job; an employee-run peer recognition program that offers rewards and prizes; ping pong tournaments and even front-line tellers wearing tiaras on their heads as part of a humorous "Queen for a Day" event. "It's just a lot of fun," Dahlstrom said.

Jokes aside, Dahlstrom said from the first day, employees are surrounded by a "culture of training" that improves them as people and employees. New hires attend a day-long welcome party that teaches them about the credit union, their job and coworkers and, most importantly, the members and what they expect.

"More than anybody I know, we invest in our employees," Dahlstrom said. "Low employee turnover is something that is important to us."

Dahlstrom said he wants employees that stay for years not only to save the credit union training dollars, but to reassure the members. If a member comes into a branch often and sees new faces every time, it tends to make them question the stability of, the CU said. Spokane Teachers has under a 10% turnover rate according to Dahlstrom.

Regarding the possibility of "deadwood" or bored employees who've stayed too long, Dahlstrom said the credit union has a long standing practice of helping its employees move on to greener pastures if necessary. For example, if a part-time employee just wants to do a job and go home to the kids, increased workloads or job responsibilities can lead to frustration at work. Dahlstrom said Spokane Teachers CU has had a 12% to 15% increase in business per year that resulted in some employees moving on to other, sometimes less stressful jobs. Plus, a bad worker is simply not tolerated anyway and has to be removed whatever the cause, he said.

"A problem employee is not part of the team anymore," Dahlstrom said. "If they wouldn't say hi to someone in the hallway, we don't want them."

Meanwhile, at Massachusetts-based Digital FCU, Tim Garner, vice president of marketing and strategic planning, echoed many of Dahlstrom's ideas about creating a fun work environment while providing solid training and feedback. If employees are content, members will sense that and receive better service as a result.

"Our belief is that most people want to do a good job," Garner said. "It's not about 'what I did', it's about 'what we did.'"

Garner said DCU offers subsidized snacks in its headquarters and operations center and went so far as to rent a shuttle bus during the Christmas season so employees could catch a free ride to a local mall for some lunch-time shopping. The shuttle bus driver asked about job openings after being impressed with DCU's consideration, he said.

"It seemed like a great place to work (to the driver)," Garner said. "A lot of little things go a long way."

Garner said DCU maintains a regular training schedule with an in-house training center, online training lessons, an in-house mentoring program and also brings in outside vendors to teach employees. Garner said employees who move on to other jobs have had opportunities presented to them as area companies are aware of DCU's extensive training program.

"The bottom line is to keep people happy. Give them challenging goals, help them achieve them and then treat them with respect," Garner said.

Garner and Dahlstrom both stressed teamwork, taking care of employees and while it sounds simple, it's not. Spokane Teachers CU set out to become a top-tier working environment nearly 10 years ago, Dahlstrom said.

"There's no magic pill, no 'one thing.' It takes work and everyone has to be committed," Dahlstrom said.

(c) 2005 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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