How Credit Unions Can Create a Modern Workplace in a Competitive Job Market

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How Credit Unions Can Create a Modern Workplace in a Competitive Job Market

Throughout the pandemic, transition to virtual work, and subsequent Great Resignation, employees are reflecting on what’s important to them in the workplace as companies return to the traditional work environment. However, many employers are challenged with a growing number of employees, particularly women, leaving the workforce to pursue more flexible work terms that promote personal balance, address common pressures, and reduce burnout.  

Now more than ever, to remain competitive in the job market and attract and retain top talent, credit unions should consider how to modernize the workplace and meet new and existing employees’ shifting needs. On “C.U. on the Show,” Doug welcomes guest Laurie Maddalena, CEO of Envision Excellence, an executive coaching and leadership development firm. Laurie has over 20 years of experience working with credit unions as an executive and is the co-author of the bestselling book, Women Who Shine. Laurie and Doug dive into practical ways credit unions can begin to modernize the workplace, support women in leadership roles, and model a more inclusive work environment—while keeping up productivity and positive results.

Why Is a Modern Work Environment Important for Credit Unions?

The work environment employees are seeking today looks vastly different from the workplace of 30 years ago, Laurie explains. More women are looking for opportunities to bring their professionalism and expertise to a leadership role. However, they still face common challenges such as balancing a career, caring for children, and running a household. 

How can credit unions create an environment that supports the modern family and employee and encourages female leaders without the constant tradeoffs seemingly required to advance? Laurie explains this is a learning and experimental phase for credit unions and one approach may not necessarily work for everyone. However, she discusses new strategies credit unions and companies beyond financial institutions are employing that are maintaining or improving productivity, including:

  • Instituting flexible schedules that enable remote, autonomous work or a hybrid policy depending on the position.
  • Modeling personal boundaries, effectively managing energy to produce results, and encouraging employees to disconnect during off-work hours.
  • Creating and applying best practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Laurie also discusses how employees, particularly women, can advocate for themselves and create opportunities by networking outside of work, asking for more responsibilities, and being more proactive about mentoring and feedback.

Stream the full episode to learn more insight from Laurie and what your credit union should think about when modernizing your workplace. You can also connect with Laurie and gain more updates on Twitter.

Laurie Maddalena and Envision Excellence are not affiliated with or endorsed by ACT Advisors, LLC. 


Audio Transcription (pulled from the podcast)

Doug (00:00)

My guest on today’s podcast is Laurie Maddalena. Laurie is CEO of Envision Excellence, a consulting firm that provides leadership development programs for executives. Prior to establishing her firm, Laurie served as VP of Human Resources and Organizational Development at Montgomery County Teachers Credit Union. She is also a contributing author in the international bestselling books, Women Who Empower and Women Who Shine. In this episode, Laurie shares ideas to attract and retain employees in today’s competitive environment. 

Doug  (00:15)

Laurie, welcome to the show. Tell me about how you got started and working with credit unions and credit union leaders.

Laurie Maddalena  (00:58)

So Doug, I’ve been in the credit union industry for 22 years. And my first position was the assistant call center manager at a credit union here in Maryland. And I was actually working at a restaurant and one of my colleagues had said, “There’s a position open at the credit union.” I didn’t even know what a credit union was. But I went on the interview and got the job. The first couple of months, I thought I might stay here a year, and eventually move on. And then I started to really see the wonderful thing about the credit union industry and the people and decided to move into HR eventually, and was there for nine and a half years. So I think a lot of people have this experience where they go to a credit union, and they don’t think they’ll be there long. And you turn around and it’s almost 10 years later. I started my business about 13 years ago where I focus on helping leaders be more modern leaders and developing executives and managers.

Doug  (02:00)

Great, so I found your name from the work I do and the reading I do in the industry with the CUES Real Talk series about women leaders in the credit union movement. Tell me a little bit about that.

Laurie Maddalena  (02:15)

So this is a four-part series that CUES started to help advance women in the workplace because women still are not paid equal to men. And there’s many challenges and pressures that women specifically face in the workplace. We had our first session last week on the Great Resignation. As we know, the pandemic has caused a lot of people to reflect on what’s important to them and really want change in their organizations. And so we’re seeing a record number of women leave organizations. So our first panel was talking about that: the impact on credit unions, and the impact on the financial well-being of women, and how we can advance women to come back to the workplace. What credit unions and organizations need to do to support, not only women, but even men in this more modern workplace environment.

Doug  (03:06)

So, go into a little detail about that, tell them and tell me what some of the takeaways were. What does the industry need to do to retain and attract folks in this new, more competitive environment?

Laurie Maddalena  (03:19)

Women, the biggest thing we talked about was how there’s this evolution happening in our society. You know, I think back to 30 years ago, when I entered the workforce; there weren’t as many women when I was a kid—my mom stayed home. And I think a lot of us in the Gen X generation had that experience. And now we’re seeing more women coming into the workplace and wanting something different: flexibility. I just read an article a couple of weeks ago that said flexibility is not really new for what people want. However, the pandemic has caused people to really experience a different way to work, where they were able to be virtual. And although very challenging and a difficult time for many people, especially women who, research shows, take more of the brunt of the housework at home—they do more of the household duties. And certainly having children at home. I know I experienced that challenge in the beginning of the pandemic; it was not easy. Yet, people saw that by not having to commute so much and having some of that flexibility, they were able to balance some of those things more than ever before. So I really believe that this caused a reflection for a lot of people to want something different from their workplace. And so a lot of what we talked about is how this is such a great opportunity. And I think particularly for credit unions since our philosophy is people helping people, and we’ve tended to be maybe more advanced in women leadership. But this is such a great opportunity to really redesign and think about it: How can we create a workforce, a workplace, a structure that supports the modern family, supports women, men in our society today, and maybe that’s not coming to the office five days a week? Now, certainly, having people work remotely 100% of the time isn’t necessarily the best model for many organizations. And I’m not suggesting it’s one model. I think it really—there’s many ways we can build flexibility into organizations. And many people are saying that’s what they want. McKinsey just had a report out that said 57% of men want to work remotely at least three days a week and 67% of women want to work remotely three days a week. So how can we as organizations use this as an opportunity to rethink how we design the workplace going forward, modernize it, so that we can support women staying in our organizations. Again, the Great Resignation, people are leaving, and bringing more women back to the organizations. And I really think that ends up improving financial outcomes. I know that your mission for your organization is improving financial outcomes for credit union leaders. This is a way that we, as organizations, can improve the financial outcomes by creating spaces for women to bring their professionalism and their expertise in the organization without having constant tradeoffs of what they have to balance it with and the pressures at home. We’re not going to get rid of that completely, yet there’s a fantastic opportunity right now for us to be on the leading edge. And organizations that want to attract and retain the best talent will really have to think through how they design their workplaces.

Doug  (06:47)

So have you seen any best practices in that area, or kind of new ideas in an area that you can share with our listeners?

Laurie Maddalena  (06:55)

Yeah, so one of my clients is instituting— and she said, we’re testing things out and seeing how it goes—a three day a week virtual policy right now for most of their employees and two days a week being in the office. I have another client who is mainly being virtual, and then they’re thinking of doing quarterly retreats to make sure they still have that connection with their employees. Another client is increasing their EAP benefits, and so really helping to support the mental well-being of their employees and have expanded their therapy services to their employees and family members. So essentially, employees and family members can have free therapy. So there are so many ways that organizations are looking at how do we support this flexibility. A CEO friend of mine was telling me how she is being more purposeful of how she’s creating boundaries in her own life to model that for her employees. So one of the challenges, I think, in this flexible environment is how do we help leaders create boundaries, so that it’s not constantly connected with technology. Now, it’s much harder to leave work at 5:30 and say I’m done. People feel like they have to be constantly connected. And so she’s being purposeful about modeling those boundaries so that her employees see, “Hey, I left at 4 today to go do something with my family, or I took a break in the middle of the day to go walk my dog.” Simple things like that can help to model a more modern workplace where people can be more productive, because really, frankly, working 10/12 hours a day, productivity significantly declines. And so how can we support people to bring their best to work and really manage their energy so that we can support our members and really do our best at work every day.

Doug  (08:54)

I imagine it is really a difficult situation. Because if you allow folks to work from home, ideally, you can right? Ideally everyone would be able to work from wherever it was physically possible. But then they would have to be responsible and inclined to do as much work as they did before or productivity for the organization is going to slip. And I guess that’s why it’s being tested, right? To see if we can keep the productivity going.

Laurie Maddalena  (09:28)

I think there’s a lot of research out there that shows that generally speaking, productivity has increased. Of course, there are times where it can decrease. I think this is something we have to consider as organizations, and I think the boundary piece is important of not having people burn the candle at both ends so that they’re exhausted all the time and not able to be as productive. That helping them to learn how to manage energy and really focus on results rather than focusing on time. And this is a big shift, I think, for a lot of leaders in organizations, because traditionally we focused on really the surveillance of our employees and making sure people are here on time at this minute to whatever their offer letter said, right, and then working their hours and not leaving five minutes early. And it’s really made this shift to, we’ve got to focus on results and allow people this autonomy. We’re talking about professionals here—allow people to be professionals. And I think this is a difference between the more traditional environment. And as we’re shifting toward this more modern environment, people who are professionals, who have this expertise, they want to feel like they’re able to bring that to work every day. And if leaders are supporting them in here’s what we need, here are the results we need, and giving them the autonomy and not micromanaging, it allows them to bring that brilliance and manage their energy in a way that works best for them while still getting results. Because obviously we’re in business to get results, every business is. So it’s not at the expense of results. It’s how do we get even better results through this more modern approach?

Doug  (11:16)

With your background, I think that’s particularly interesting. So reflect on when you were a call center manager. And you think about how massively things have shifted, and you try to adapt to this environment. How would you handle the hours on the phone issue? Any thoughts about that?

Laurie Maddalena  (11:43)

I think for positions that are member focused, there are ways that we can offer flexibility without it necessarily having to be maybe 100% virtual. Although I know a lot of credit unions who are shifting to a virtual call center environment where their employees are home. Yet in a call center environment, certainly you need people on the phones ready to serve members at certain times. So it may not mean that we give people like that all this autonomy where you can just show up to work whenever you want, right? That’s not gonna work. However, can we create certain schedules where it allows for some flexibility. So people can go to their child’s winter concert or to one of their games and build some of that in and support them in ways. I have a client who’s giving each of their employees a wellness day this year that they can use for anything. Simple things like that, it doesn’t have to be dramatic to allow people to not feel like they have to constantly have these tradeoffs. So in a member service environment, this may not be everyone working from home, you need some people in the branches, yet thinking about how can we think differently or even our schedules to support people; maybe it’s a half day off during the week. And if you have Saturday hours, you have people working Saturday hours, I think there’s different ways that you can approach that while still supporting people in a more modern environment.

Doug  (13:18)

Yeah, and especially as you said, the further up in the organization you are, the more your job tends to not be aligned with the nine to five at all, right? It tends to be much more than nine to five and it does not need to be done even during the work week. It can be done on the weekend. I think that seems to be the place organizations are starting, with flexibility at the higher levels. Is that what you see? 

Laurie Maddalena  (13:54)

I do see that more in the management roles, they’re starting to test that out. And again, some organizations have moved to a hybrid environment, some are testing it out and seeing how it goes. One of our panelists last week, Monica Davey, encouraged people to ask their employees instead of just sitting around the executive table and coming up with what you think is the best approach. Getting employees involved, asking for their input: it doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily do exactly everything they’ll say. Yet when people feel that they’re involved in it, you hear their specific challenges and their needs. Every organization might be different. Every culture is different. And so some cultures some people might say no, we want to be in the office a couple times a week; other cultures might think something different. And so if you ask your employees and survey them and use this as a time to reflect and test things out—see what’s going to work. I saw an article last month that said the future of the workplace is a four-day week. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Right. And I don’t know if that’ll happen. But people are thinking through what are some other ways that we can be productive and get results. There are some companies out there that do have four-day work weeks that have reported more productivity. So instead of just thinking while the traditional way has worked, and I think this is something that as leaders, if we’ve been in the workplace for a while, there is this tendency sometimes to think, well, I had to be at work five days a week; I’m expecting my employees to be here five days a week, right? This is kind of old school thinking and maybe that doesn’t work anymore. And so how can we start to be open to other ways that are not the traditional nine to five, five-day-a-week approach that could get the results we’re looking for, and maybe even better results?

Doug  (15:52)

Yeah, that would be the ultimate win/win, and your employees get the flexibility, and your results are at least the same, maybe better, because ideally, they’re happier, right? And maybe more productive. 

Laurie Maddalena  (16:10)

I really think they would not only be happier. I believe if we move toward this more modern approach, productivity will increase, because people won’t be so overwhelmed and burnt out. Research has shown that when women have flexibility, when they have an opportunity for a more flexible schedule, they report being burnt out at lesser rates. So I believe that the future of the workplace, if you want to be able to retain and attract the best employees, this is what’s happening, this shift is happening. And if you don’t start to get ahead of it, or at least go with it right now, you will not be able to keep those people. Because people value different things than they did 30 years ago. I know—I’m a Gen Xer. And when I came into the workplace, I was conditioned to think you kind of put your head down, you do your work. And if your boss doesn’t talk to you, that’s probably a good thing. And I also felt like, maybe one day I’d be recognized for a leadership role if I worked hard. And now I believe it’s even more important for people, especially women, to be more proactive and purposeful in their own professional development to be able to get into those leadership ranks.

Doug  (17:31)

Yes. So yeah, tell me more about that.

Laurie Maddalena (17:36)

Yeah, so again, in my generation, it was perhaps: Work hard, and in ten years, you get promoted to a leadership role. Now, I really believe we as women need to be more deliberate about thinking strategically about our own professional development and where we want to be. So if you’re an executive, maybe you want to go to a larger organization, or if you have employees who work for you, mentoring programs, professional development, making sure that leaders are giving employees feedback. Employees, I would say, even advocating and asking for that feedback, asking for opportunities. I know a lot of your audiences are executive leaders but if we do have any more mid-level leaders out there, it’s to ask for opportunities like presenting to the board or taking on a project that’s more highly visible so you get that experience. Getting involved in groups outside, and I believe CEOs/executives, this is so important, now more than it ever has been—there’s so many organizations in the credit union industry where you can get involved and have a network of peers. So for CEOs, and particularly women CEOs, this could be finding other women CEOs who you can get together with on a regular basis and share challenges and how you work through them and navigate them, whether it’s in your credit union or for your own personal development of working with the board or different ways that you can support each other so we can keep more women in the workplace and provide these opportunities for women. There’s so many opportunities out there, particularly with LinkedIn and Global Women’s Leadership Network. It’s really endless of how we can get involved in this industry to support women to stay in the workplace and have the support they need to feel like they have that balance and they can bring their professionalism to work every day without having all of these pressures of work and home.

Doug  (19:46)

Come back into the workplace. We need as many qualified competent people in the credit union movement as we can get, right?

Laurie Maddalena  (19:57)

Absolutely, and more women are leaving and so this is a way that we can help to support them. I believe that the organization has a huge role here, of formalizing more of these processes. In my work, in leadership, traditionally we’ve promoted people without providing them with leadership training or opportunities to learn how to be a great leader; we’ve kind of thrown people into positions. And I even think about your business of financial planning and wealth management. When I was an executive in a credit union, the CEO had that opportunity, but the other executives didn’t have access to that type of development and training, even with wealth management. So how can we make more of this mainstream for people, even beyond the executive ranks of helping women to have access to this type of education, these types of resources, so that they can improve their financial outcomes?

Doug  (20:56)

I think you are right on with the idea of being strategic about thinking about where you spend your time, what sort of content you are taking in and then of course, who you surround yourself with within the movement. You know, there are so many choices of things to get into, it really is a question of, what are you not going to do? And how do you sort through that? I think, again, as you and I grew up it was work hard, prove results, and then you’ll be recognized. And maybe that’s still the case to some degree today. But being strategic about the things you get involved in. Any suggestions about how to select one versus another activity?

Laurie Maddalena  (21:50)

Think about where you personally want to develop. And so I know here in the DC area, there’s a group of women CEOs who get together regularly to support each other. And so I think at the CEO level, that’s certainly something that’s beneficial, because you don’t have anyone else in your organization who’s in the same position as you, right? And so seeking that on the outside; I’ve seen many female CEOs do a great job of getting involved in women’s leadership. I think this is so important right now. And not just for women CEOs, but for men CEOs too, is to start putting a much more heavy focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and building practices into your organizations that support getting women into leadership roles, and not have this be a check it off the list type. Hey, we did a workshop last year, great. We fulfilled our DEI requirements. But really more strategically thinking about how do we write checks? How do we make sure that we’re building this and practicing it, that it’s not just, hey, we did a great workshop, we checked it off, but we’re actually living it in the organization to provide these opportunities. So of course I’m partial to the women movement type of industry groups out there, but there are many, many others. I know there’s professional development about speaking better in front of people; that’s certainly a skill that’s important, I believe, for executive leaders. And so getting involved in something like that. And understanding for you, in particular, where you personally want to develop and also your credit union. Is your credit union still more of a traditional makeup? And how do you get exposed to other ideas and best practices, not even just in our industry, but outside of our industry, to start to evoke that change in your credit union and in your organization? There’re many leading edge credit unions out there that are doing things to promote women’s leadership that are making it more of a practice. And then there’s many organizations out there beyond the credit union industry. There’s even white papers; McKinsey and Company is one that I love to keep in contact with. And really research. Lean In. All of these organizations are out there. We as leaders need to be proactive and not rest on our laurels and just think things are going to be the way they’ve always been. Because they’re not—these generations coming in. I mean, millennials, the oldest millennials are almost in their mid-40s. They’re not young anymore. They’re in professional roles, management roles. They are leaders now. They’ve been here a while and now Gen Z is coming in. There’s five generations in the workplace. Now that’s the first time in history that’s ever happened. And so it’s so important to understand what generations value, what’s important to them, and not think from our own perspective, to really open up to understanding. Those generations had more choices than perhaps the other generations did. And they’re not okay with how things have been over the past 30–40 years. That’s not okay for them. And that’s okay. I believe this is a great opportunity to hear what they’re looking for. You know, again, when I was a kid, my mom stayed home and my dad went to work every day for 12 hours. And that was the traditional environment. And that’s not the case as much anymore. We have two-parent households with both parents professionals working and trying to balance all of that. Things have changed, evolved, and shifted. And for us to stay relevant as organizations we need to evolve and shift with the change in society.

Doug  (25:46)

That is the perfect summation for our talk today. Laurie, thank you so much for joining us. Any final comments for our listeners?

Laurie Maddalena  (25:58)

Well, thank you, Doug. I’m excited to be here to talk about this topic. And I appreciate that you’re focused on helping improve financial outcomes for credit union women and leaders. And so continue to do that work that you’re doing and I appreciate being able to talk with you today. 

Doug

Thank you, Laurie.


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