A little understanding goes a long way, as this wellness program shows

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HomeTown Bank first created a companywide wellness program in 2013, but it didn't really catch on with employees until three years later, when Ashley Ratliff took charge of it.

At the outset, the physical, mental, financial and social wellness programs were typically put on by external organizations or employees who had other responsibilities. So the results were uneven, said Nadia Summo, the vice president and director of human resources and training at the $551 million-asset bank in Roanoke, Va.

In 2016, the bank promoted Ratliff from branch manager to the newly created position of training officer, and tasked her with building a more consistent and engaging program.

Since then, employee participation in the various wellness programs has increased steadily as Ratliff has expanded the curriculum. After first surveying employees to find out what they wanted, she added more sessions around a broader range of topics, including emotional intelligence and stress management.

Summo attributed the overall success of the reinvigorated wellness program largely to having a dedicated training officer.

She also cited the addition of nonbanking courses, saying even those can help employees do their jobs better.

The stress management class aims to provide employees with some coping strategies, from breathing exercises to something as simple as taking a quick 30-second walk around the office.

Summo said helping employees combat stress is good for productivity, "keeping our projects running on time."

Inspired by the improved productivity, HomeTown is now in the process of developing a new training program geared toward managers that it expects to roll it out in September.

About 18 managers have signed up for the four-month program, which will place a heavy emphasis on building communication skills. It is designed to help managers be more effective in providing feedback, dealing with conflicts, building their teams and motivating employees.

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Emotional intelligence training has become particularly popular at HomeTown, as it can help employees better understand their colleagues' and customers' behavior, Summo said.

"In banking, we deal with a lot of different personalities, especially on the front line of our branches, and we want to make sure that our employees are very-well equipped to handle all kinds of personalities and emotions," she said.

These skills are especially important in banking, an industry where it is not uncommon for front-line workers to encounter customers dealing with financial problems.

"We want to make sure that every customer that walks through the door feels like they have somebody they can talk to about something sensitive," Summo said.

Ratliff said that 84% of the bank's employees have participated in emotional intelligence training. Another popular class is personality profile assessments, which has a participation rate of 78%.

"We had two young ladies who did not get along because of different personalities and once they took this class, the difference in their behaviors and how they worked with one another changed drastically," said Ratliff. "They're like, 'Oh my God, I thought she was doing it this way to irritate me, but she was doing it this way because this is the way she thinks.'"

Now, every new hire of the bank needs to complete the profile test, and their profile types are sent to their managers. The new employees get to see their entire team's profile as well.

"Putting the right people in the right spot makes a big difference," said Ratliff.

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