What Can Credit Union Leaders Do to Mitigate ‘The Turnover Tsunami’?

illustration of one employee leaving and another coming to chair in office
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR Photo
Contributing Writer

12 minutes

Nine tactics for attracting, hiring and retaining talent in the era of the ‘great resignation’

It’s been called the “turnover tsunami” and the “great resignation.”

A predicted massive outflux of employees is already beginning to be felt in some organizations. Employees of all kinds from companies of all sorts have gotten a taste of the flexibility and work/life balance that working from home has provided. Many are loathe to return to the physical workplace. Many have also had plenty of time to think about their careers and the companies they work for—what they like, what they don’t—and what they would rather be doing.

This has created an environment in which employers, including credit unions, are scrambling to find—and keep—talent.

Resignation Fears are Real

There are plenty of media reports and studies pointing to the potential of a mass exodus out of the workforce.

  • A Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 employees around the world indicated that 41% of respondents were thinking about quitting or changing professions.
  • Data from the Department of Labor indicates that people leaving their jobs spiked in April to more than four million—the highest number on record.
  • hueman reports a 28.6% year-over-year decrease in active job seekers across all industries.

In this environment, some employers are taking a hardline approach and calling people back to their physical work settings, and others are mandating vaccines.

It remains to be seen how all of this will play out as the pandemic subsides and things return to something like normal. Now, though, is the time for credit union managers and their HR advisors to be thinking about ways that they can establish the right foundation to address employee needs and keep them on board.

The Impetus Behind the Great Resignation

Several factors likely played into what is predicted to be a mass exodus from the workforce, says Laurie Maddalena, CEO and chief leadership consultant with Envision Excellence and the facilitator for CUES’ RealTalk! events.

For one, the ability to work from home gave employees a taste of a different work experience—one that many have decided they like, says Maddalena. “I think employees realized, ‘Hey, this job can be done in this way.” They had an opportunity to rethink what’s important to them.

Women have been particularly impacted, Maddalena points out. Research shows that during the pandemic many women were simultaneously caring for—and teaching—their children while also doing their jobs. The environment is still such that these tasks do fall more to women than to men, she says. Much of this is driven by practical considerations related to pay, she says, recalling an article she read indicating that when conversations about who’s going to take on the childcare duties take place, the decision is generally based on who earns more and, unfortunately, there is still a gender pay gap that means women tend to earn less than their spouses.

Laurie Maddalena
CEO/Chief Consultant
Envision Excellence
The organizations that dig in their heels and say, ‘No, we’re going back to the way it was,’ are really going to struggle to find great talent.

“I think a lot of women reached a breaking point, myself included, during the first few months of COVID,” she says. “They were probably the hardest in my adult life—three kids at home, trying to get the technology to work, getting them to focus on learning, all while working full time. It was a disaster.”

But, Maddalena says she thinks positive things will come out of these experiences. “People are already talking and having this dialogue. They’re seeing that not all employees are excited to come back five days a week. The smart organizations are going to get ahead of this, think it through, and really start to make some of these shifts and changes. The organizations that dig in their heels and say, ‘No, we’re going back to the way it was,’ are really going to struggle to find great talent.”

How Credit Unions Can Respond

Credit unions, by and large, are considered to be good places to work, and their mission can be very attractive and compelling to many employees, says Christopher Stevenson, CIE, CUES’ chief learning officer. That can certainly be a benefit when employees have many options available to them. Credit unions not immune from the potential of the great resignation, however. They, like other organizations, need to be thinking of ways they can establish the kind of culture and climate that will improve the likelihood that employees will stay engaged, productive and loyal.

Here we look at nine tactics to consider as you develop a strategy for responding to the potential for growth in employee resignations.

  1. Be mission-driven. Being mission-driven can be a strong satisfier for employees.

“The credit union philosophy around people helping people can be really attractive,” says Maddalena. “Credit unions have a great opportunity to use that in their recruitment and onboarding processes to help people see the impact and meaning this industry provides. It’s not just about opening checking accounts and balancing GLs (general ledgers). Employees are there to help members’ financial dreams come true.”  

Being mission-driven also relates to the strong presence credit unions have in the communities they serve. Employees have opportunities to participate in a wide range of community outreach activities related to their personal passions as well as the credit union’s mission.

  1. Offer education. Education, says Stevenson, can be a great way to keep people on board. But this doesn’t have to mean the kind of traditional, formal education that may first come to mind.

“It’s not, necessarily, putting them on an airplane and flying them to a conference—it can be, but it’s not the only way,” he says. “In fact, ultimately most development of employees should be happening through stretch assignments and additional responsibilities.” This could take the form of committee assignments or the opportunity to lead various groups or teams but in general means giving employees an opportunity to work on things that are outside of their day-to-day work.

But, Stevenson says, credit unions need to be intentional about how they communicate with employees about these opportunities to avoid the perception of: “Oh, I get more work, but no more pay.” Instead, he suggests, leaders might say something like: “I’m giving you this assignment because, one, I think that you have great potential and, two, it’s going to push you a little bit outside of your box and help you to think differently about contributing to the credit union’s strategy, building new skills and so on.”

  1. Offer opportunities for career growth. Career growth, says Maddalena, will be an important way to keep staff on board, especially millennials.

“This is something that’s coming out a lot in the research right now,” she says. “Millennials are looking for career growth. They want to know what their path is when they’re hired.” It’s important, she says, for organizations to ensure that managers and supervisors are prepared to serve in a role that allows them to work with employees on developing career paths. “They want to know that there’s an opportunity for growth and development,” she says.  

Providing opportunities for career growth requires managers to be trained in how to help employees develop career paths, Maddalena adds. “If credit unions focus on purposefully developing career paths, it can really help attract and retain the right people.”

  1. Ensure managers have the skills needed to manage today’s workforce. CUES member Troy Hall, CUDE, Ph.D., is chief strategy officer at $2.4 billion South Carolina Federal Credit Union, North Charleston, North Carolina, and a talent retention specialist.

“At South Carolina Federal, we are ensuring that managers have the skills to manage today's workforce and have revamped many of our training and employee programs to be effective in a virtual environment. What I see as a whole is the industry has been slow in training the supervisors and leaders of those people who are now working remotely,” says Hall. “It was easy when leaders could just walk by employee cubicles and see how they were and check on them—or look up to see whether employees were in their spot working or not. But it’s not easy today.”

When talking about remote work, Hall says, one of the ways South Carolina Federal makes sure employees feel connected is to align the values of the organization’s culture with employees regardless of whether they are remote or in-person. It is important, regardless of where employees are located, that they do not feel left out.

“We want them to belong,” he says, “so we make an extra effort to include our staff in communication, micro-learning activities, daily huddles, Zoom lunches and trivia games.”

The culture of an organization, Hall says, “is not determined by whether people are under the same roof—it’s how people are treated under whatever roof they’re under.”

Supervisors and managers need to understand the critical nature of communication, and they need to be adept at communicating effectively with employees using the various tools available to them. That’s not something that just comes naturally. They need to be trained and coached on how to do this effectively, especially in remote or hybrid environments.

  1. Raise the minimum wage. There has been much talk over the past few years about the need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour or more. It’s certainly one way that employers can try to attract and retain employees and some credit unions—like $14.6 billion Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union, Universal City, Texas—have already done this. The CU raised starting pay for employees to $18/hour in September 2021, well above the $7.25 an hour minimum wage requirement in Texas.

In June, $269 million Michigan Legacy Credit Union, Wyandotte, Michigan, raised its minimum hourly pay from $13 to $16 an hour. The minimum wage in Michigan is $9.65 an hour.

These and other credit unions are hoping that competitive wages will help them compete in a tight labor market.

“Many credit unions have very strong benefits packages and they do their best to compensate well,” Stevenson says. It can be challenging, though, he acknowledges. “Credit unions tend to be smaller organizations and, in many cases, they’re competing with larger organizations that have the resources to compensate better or to provide additional benefits.”

  1. Offer hybrid and flexible work. Maddalena points to the need for a new model of work to accommodate the emerging needs of today’s employees.

“I think people are starting to say, ‘Hey, this model of work does not support where we are in our society today.’ There are more women in professional and management roles than there were 30 years ago, and there are more households with both partners working full-time. We need to redesign the structure of the workplace so that it supports the modern family while also supporting business results.”

Hall agrees. It is challenging, to say the least, for organizations that have done quite well during the pandemic with employees working from home to try to build a case for why those employees must come back into the workplace to be effective.

“In many cases organizations, specifically credit unions, have had some of their best years with people working remotely,” Hall notes.

Employers, he says, need to get ahead of this curve and the likelihood that many employees will want to continue to work remotely. “They shouldn’t have to wait for employees to say, ‘I want to work from home.’”

Troy Hall, CUDE, Ph.D.
Chief Strategy Officer/Talent Retention Specialist
South Carolina Federal Credit Union
The culture of an organization 'is not determined by whether people are under the same roof—it’s how people are treated under whatever roof they’re under.'

Maddalena says that she believes more organizations will consider moving to a hybrid approach that allows some people to work remotely some or all the time. For others, whose jobs require them to be onsite, employers may consider building more flexibility into their workweeks and days—maybe they’re offered the opportunity to take time off to attend their children’s functions or to attend to their families.

“Credit unions need to consider their business model,” she says. “Flexibility does not have to mean working remotely. There are different ways that we can support people to have that flexibility to have a life outside of work.”

  1. Attend to mental health. Maddalena says that one of her credit union clients has recently increased its mental health benefits to provide employees’ family members with access to free therapy. Managers need to recognize signs of burnout among their employees, Maddalena says. They need to recognize when they’re expecting too much of their employees without giving them the proper resources to do what’s being asked.

But, Maddalena says, addressing burnout and employee health needs to go beyond simply offering a stress management webinar. Such programs can be helpful, she says, but they’re not enough.

“Let’s look at what we’re expecting from people,” she says. “Many organizations are trying to do more with less, and the implications are that employees become overwhelmed, overworked and disengaged. Let’s look at what’s reasonable and how we need to redefine work.”

  1. Redefining the role of managers. Maddalena notes that the role of managers today has changed significantly. The concept of “working managers,” she says, is outmoded and unrealistic. The idea that managers should both be doing the work and managing others doesn’t give them enough time to focus on leading effectively.

“Thirty years ago,” she explains, “what was expected of a manager was much more about doing Now, it’s much more about influencing other people, coaching, career pathing and development. That takes time.”

  1. Listen. In this environment, one thing is more important than ever before—listening to employees to understand their needs and concerns and taking appropriate steps to address them before they leave for greener pastures.

Hall says, “our mindset needs to be one of looking to the future and not just being rooted in the past.” That means, he says, “that when things in our environment change, whether we wanted them to change or not, we have to ask ourselves if we’re willing to step up to what needs to be done.”

Determining what needs to be done can be greatly aided by being proactive in listening to employees—whether they’re onsite or online. That can involve a wide range of tactics from holding town hall meetings in both virtual and live settings to interacting casually with employees in the physical breakroom or on Slack channels.

The key, though, is making a concerted effort and being open to whatever you may hear.

Credit unions may not be able to entirely avoid the great resignation. They can, though, begin to put strategies in place to build a stronger, more supportive, foundation to meet employee needs wherever and whenever they may work.

Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a writer and human resource management and marketing communication consultant in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement (Adams Media, 2014) and Human Resource Essentials (SHRM, 2010).

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