How CUs Can Maintain Employee Morale During Troubled Economy

Editor's Note: CURE (Credit Union Retired Executives) is sharing advice with Journal readers based on questions it receives and responses from the numerous retired CU execs it has recruited.

Question: How can we maintain morale among employees, especially in today's uncertain economic climate?

Morale is difficult to define — it's more a feeling about a successful organization and how the employee fits into that organization. Morale is the collective expression of individual feelings. A successful team has high morale; team members are productive and optimistic in any economic climate. Setbacks are temporary and can be overcome. Employees are confident of their value to the credit union. Managers lead by example, and are role models for the employees.

Employees who understand the "big picture" and know that management recognizes and appreciates their value/ contribution to that big picture are employees with high morale.

In building morale, communication is at the top of the list, followed by employee appreciation. Recognition of the value of every employee and their vital contribution to the success of the credit union must be truly integral to the credit union culture-and must be communicated in everything management does, from the vision and mission statements to the day-to-day operations of the credit union's many functions.

Employees must know that management respects them, understands their concerns, and is always working to improve operations at their credit union. One way to show your understanding is to create an open forum for the exchange of ideas among your employees, getting them to participate and thus feel more ownership of their place in the credit union. Another way is to ensure that employees have the tools they need to do their jobs successfully. "Tools" is a broad term, including not only the hardscape of the office, i.e., office space, computers, phones, and supplies, but also the softscape, i.e., the atmosphere of mutual respect, esprit de corps, openness to new ideas, and flexibility.

Perhaps most important, employees with high morale reflect that attitude when they interact with members. Our vision is to serve our members; our mission is to do that with excellent customer service and expertise every step of the way. Happy and productive employees will automatically convey a professional impression of quiet confidence and competence-an attitude that best supports our members.

In sum, you must build respect for and recognition of employee contributions into your credit union culture, and you must find ways to express these values in everything you do, from your vision statements to your day-to-day operations. Communication — maintaining open channels among managers and employees, encouraging the exchange of ideas, and expressing your appreciation — is vital to maintaining high morale. And high morale is key to ensuring the long-term success of your credit union. We've also received inquiries about incentives, which play a key role in employee recognition — we'll talk about them in the next column.