American Savings Bank in Hawaii used to issue paychecks twice a month, but switched to a weekly schedule four years ago at the behest of employees.

The idea for the policy change bubbled up through meetings of its Employee Excellence Council, a group of roughly 50 volunteers — from tellers to senior vice presidents — that offers input on benefits, working conditions and anything else that might be on employees' minds. The group meets for half a day about eight times a year, and though Chief Administrative Officer Beth Whitehead attends most of the meetings, the council drives the agenda, she says.

"They are the voice of the employee and anything they want to discuss about the experience, we discuss," says Whitehead, who established the council shortly after she joined the bank in 2008. "No topic is off limits."

Membership on the council rotates, with the entire group turning over roughly once a year.

Other ideas American Savings has implemented include a casual dress code and pet insurance as an employee benefit. The council also gets some credit for an online shopping platform that allows employees to accumulate points for hitting years-of-service milestones and wellness targets, and then exchange those points for things like iPads, bicycles or barbecue grills.

The bank expects to break ground later this year on a new corporate campus, and the council will have significant input on the design.

Whitehead says one of the biggest benefits is that rank-and-file employees get direct access to the top decision makers. The bank can't implement all of their ideas, but employees know that Chief Executive Richard Wacker and other leaders are always listening.

"We spend a lot of effort on making sure they know our executives as people … so that they aren't afraid to share ideas and feedback with us," says Whitehead.

Sometimes that direct access can turn into good-natured needling. Whitehead is captain of one of two teams participating in a two-month step challenge, in which a FitBit electronically tracks employees' steps. The team that tallies the most steps wins and Whitehead says she was chastised by some teammates recently when she was spotted taking the elevator to her 12th-floor office. "I've either got to dress in disguise to take the elevator or always take the stairs," she jokes.

In all seriousness, though, Whitehead says the step challenge helps to foster an "unstuffy" culture. The other team's captain is Wacker, and like Whitehead, he hears from teammates if he opts for the elevator over the stairs. "It means a lot to employees to have a CEO who participates in these challenges," Whitehead says. "Having that common experience contributes to the fun atmosphere around here."

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