(Jump to the rankings)

Five years ago, a 50% increase in premiums threatened to end company-paid health coverage for employees of Atomic Credit Union in Piketon, Ohio.

Plenty of companies have shifted the cost of rising premiums to employees. Atomic went shopping instead, and found a less-expensive plan. While the new plan carries higher deductibles, it still is offered at no cost to employees, according to Julie Maple, vice president of human resources at Atomic, which has 128 employees and assets of $218.8 million.

Ever since Atomic's switch, premium increases have been in the single digits, with the most recent clocking in at 3%, Maple said.

"As long as we are getting minimal increases, the company will continue to provide for the employees in that manner," she said of the employer-paid premium. "This is just one of the ways that we feel like we can help take care of our employees."

Fully paid health insurance is not the only way to take care of employees, of course. Atomic and other organizations appearing on the inaugural list of the Best Credit Unions to Work for also offer creative incentive plans, engage their employees in decision-making, provide perks designed to improve health and wellness, and create regular outlets for fun and games.

The list includes 30 credit unions, divided into four categories based on assets: $200 million or less; $200 million to $500 million; $500 million to $1 billion; and $1 billion or more.

There was no cost to appear on the list. Participating credit unions simply had to opt in and have at least 25 employees. They also underwent a two-part assessment administered by Best Companies Group, a third-party research firm. The results of the assessment determined whether and where a credit union appeared on the final list.

The first part of the assessment, worth 25 percent, gathered information about each CU's benefits, policies and HR practices. The second part, which accounted for 75 percent of thescore, involved a confidential 78-question survey of employees.

Atomic ranked at the top of the list for credit unions with $200 million to $500 million in assets. In addition to paying the entire premium for health insurance, Atomic strives to create a caring environment for employees, Maple said.

"It's fun to come to work whenever you know that you're not just considered a number," she said. "Here, you are an employee that is cared for and cared about, and your co-workers are your family."

A similar sentiment can be found at other credit unions on the list, with many citing a family atmosphere or caring environment as a favorite workplace feature among employees.

Benefiting Employees and CUs

The environment's benefits flow not just to employees, but also to credit union members, said Brandi McKinney, human resources director at Alabama Credit Union in Tuscaloosa, Ala. It was No. 2 among credit unions with $500 million to $1 billion in assets.

"If we can do everything we can for our employees and create a wonderful atmosphere where they want to come to work every day and they want to do their best, then the membership will see that as well," said McKinney.

One of the most important ingredients in sustaining that atmosphere is an understanding of what employees go through on a daily basis, McKinney said. But little things also play a role, such as awarding a paid day off for employee birthdays.

"It may seem small, but people appreciate it more than you would think," she said. "Many look forward to that birthday leave more than any other vacation day they take."

A little fun is helpful, too, even if it means donning a pair of oversized glasses and speaking into a large foam microphone.

That's how Pennie Holck kicked off an all-staff meeting in July for Yolo Federal Credit Union. Based in Woodland, Calif., Yolo was No. 7 among credit unions with $200 million to $500 million in assets.

Holck likes to start the twice-yearly meetings with a dose of humor that is not work-related. For the July meeting, she came up with a game she dubbed "Fast & Furious Spotlight."

Every employee's name went into a hat, and Holck pulled out 10 at random, she wrote in an email. Yolo's CEO, Jenee Rawlings, was among them. The 10 employees had to deliver 15-second bursts of personal information, including their dream vacations and things most people wouldn't know about them.

Holck went first, but not before whipping out a foam microphone and a pair of white glasses. She revealed that she once played bass guitar in a jazz band.

"Then all 10 employees down the line did the same thing, using the huge, phony, foam microphone and silly glasses up front in front of everyone," Holck wrote. "It was a hoot! Everyone was cracking up."

For being good sports, the 10 participants each received a $5 gift card for Jamba Juice café, she added.


Under $200 Million in Assets

Between $200 Million and $500 Million in Assets

Between $500 Million and $1 Billion

Over $1 Billion in Assets

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