Ledyard National employees bond by sharing life experiences

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When Nico Bekker was asked to share his life experiences in front of a group of colleagues at Ledyard National Bank in Hanover, N.H., three years ago, he hesitated.

“I felt initially, like, I’m only in my early 40s. I don’t have that big of a story to share yet,” Bekker said.

Bekker, the manager of the $624 million-asset bank’s Norwich, Vt., branch, decided to tell 26 mini stories about himself using the alphabet as inspiration. For example, he used the letter “l” to talk about licorice, a popular candy in his home country, the Netherlands, where he immigrated from in 2003. He even brought candy to share with the 20 co-workers who attended the event.

The presentation was so engaging that Kathy Underwood, Ledyard National’s CEO, bought herself some licorice from the shop in Norwalk, Conn., that Bekker recommended, Bekker said.

The "YETI challenge" is one way Ledyard National employees have stayed connected with each other during the coronavirus pandemic.
The "YETI challenge" is one way Ledyard National employees have stayed connected with each other during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bekker’s presentation was part of the “Everybody has a Story” program that Ledyard National rolled out in December 2016. It featured three to four luncheons every year with bank employees telling their stories. The stories ranged from colleagues living off the grid to immigrating from the Soviet Union to the U.S.

“We started that because we had people that have very interesting lives that we can all learn from,” said Barbara Graf, the bank's human resources director, who ran the program. “And it’s a nice way to get together and learn about your co-workers.”

The program helped employees establish relationships that went beyond water cooler talk, Bekker said. An employee who just started as a teller at Bekker’s branch attended his talk so that coworker “immediately knew a little bit more about his manager,” Bekker said.

And it is one reason Ledyard National made American Banker’s Best Banks to Work For list for this year for the first time. It was ranked at No. 40.

“Everybody has a Story” was succeeded by another luncheon series called “A Day in the Life of ... ” in January 2019. That program’s goal was for employees to tell others about what they do day in and day out and to illustrate how different departments intersect with one another. These luncheons were more efficient to set up than a one-on-one job shadowing program, Graf said.

The new program still invited employees from different departments to discuss their life experience, but with a focus on their work at the bank and career paths.

Bliss Dayton, the bank’s compliance officer, presented at the “A Day in the Life of … ” program last year. He emphasized to the audience that the compliance officer should not be the only person who prevents the bank from committing compliance violations. He also noted that he should be viewed as a resource to all bank employees.

“I do think I started to get more emails and phone calls,” Dayton said. “People had a better awareness of how I might be able to help them, and they were starting to use me more as a resource afterwards.”

Dayton received questions related to customer identity, account openings, credit disputes and even a cash withdrawal alert.

The program has been paused because of the pandemic, but there are plans to resume it later this year when more employees return to the office, Graf said.

Read more: Best Banks to Work For

In the meantime, Ledyard National has adapted its weekly newsletter to help keep employees in touch with each other. It features pictures of workers’ personal lives, such as employees engaging in community service and enjoying their summer with family and friends.

The newsletter also features a “YETI Challenge” to encourage employees to go outside and as another way for workers to learn more about one another.

Before the shutdown, the bank gave every employee a reusable YETI bottle with the bank logo and their name printed as an annual gift. For the challenge, participants send in photos of their YETI bottles as they are sailing, hiking or otherwise spending time outdoors.

“It’s fun that people send in pictures of their animals in their backyards or gardens,” Graf said.

All these efforts demonstrate Ledyard National’s commitment to build a strong community within the bank and make sure everyone supports the whole organization, Graf said. “We are all connected, we all support each other.”

For Bekker, the programs and newsletter show that the bank tagline “Plan Well. Live Well” applies not only to clients, but also to employees.

“When you have conversations like ‘A Day in the Life of … ’ or ‘Everybody has a story,’ you get connected on a deeper level than if you are just passing each other,” he said. “In bigger institutions, sometimes you are just a number, but that is not the case here.”

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