The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every American, especially essential workers like branch tellers who offer needed support to consumers who are navigating new financial hardships. As CUs begin to determine what business looks like in our “new normal,” they need to identify how to best support tellers and other branch staff. Despite spikes in mobile banking during the pandemic, 40 percent of Americans are planning to return to their local bank once it is safe to do so, making tellers a critical part of the banking experience.

So, how can credit union leaders best support their employees, especially tellers, as we transition into the new normal? By making investments in company culture. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 45 percent of business leaders were not committed to their company culture. This lack of investment before this world-altering crisis put banks at risk of high employee turnover and disengagement – and in the post-COVID world, it could impact their ability to evolve and succeed.

Company culture allows global and local teams to bond over shared values and work together to evolve and manage new situations. While the way we communicate and work will continue to change as the pandemic continues, company culture can be a guiding light for how the workforce reacts and adapts to new situations. The best way to keep a pulse on company culture and make new investments that employees will care about is by creating opportunities to listen, respond and build community in the workplace.

Two-Way Communication is Key
The more transparency a leader provides employees, the more likely they are to build trust, loyalty, and maintain long-term retention. Many leaders think that a good communication strategy hinges on how frequently they speak to employees. However, the biggest factor is not frequency of communication, but how often they choose to listen. When we surveyed HR and engagement leaders in early 2020, we found that 43 percent of employees were asked to provide feedback one to two times per year and 15 percent were never asked to provide feedback. Effective two-way communication doesn’t just live inside a scheduled check-in, there should be greater opportunities for bank employees to share their concerns and experiences and be heard.

It’s inevitable that employees, especially bank tellers, may feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the changes and new work environments that have been created by the pandemic. It’s also likely that they will encounter new member experiences that they’ve never received training on. It’s in these moments that a real-time listening tool or technology can help leaders keep a pulse on employee feedback to identify smaller issues before they become real problems. Employees with access to digital tools that allow them to submit concerns anonymously will be more inclined to provide honest feedback and feel the workplace is more open, inclusive and supportive.

Make Recognition More Than a Checkbox
Employee recognition not only boosts employee happiness, but also impacts job confidence and performance. In fact,our 2020 Engagement and Retention Report found that 90 percent of employees work harder after they’ve received recognition. During periods of transition and heightened uncertainty, even the smallest recognition or kudos can help employees feel more secure in their role and more apt to continue going the extra mile to serve customers. Recognition can also help reduce stress and anxiety by revealing that leadership sees the extra effort employees are putting in to be successful during this time.

Recognition does not need to be formalized as a sit down meeting or a phone call, rather it can be regular gestures of gratitude. It’s important that recognition is a frequent occurrence,  celebrating the momentary small wins to maintain team morale, build confidence and increase engagement. Engaged employees are more likely to contribute new ideas to meetings, share learnings with colleagues and continue spreading positive feelings and kudos to others.

Focus on Creating Community
Employees need a sense of community and belonging in the workplace now more than ever. Establishing meaningful employee networks is a great way to establish belonging within a company culture as it connects employees around topics and issues that impact their job or life outside of work. For example, some bank staff may be parents who are managing the new demands of remote work and childcare and providing a way to connect them with other parents in the organization could help them to feel more connected and supported by their peers.

COVID-19 showed us the importance of better preparing our frontline workers, like bank tellers, to be able to respond and communicate with consumers in high-stress situations. Using employee networks, leaders can also find opportunities to provide critical training that focuses on crisis management, inclusivity and mental health to better prepare the workforce for future crises.

Training will be crucial to workforce retention and growth in the next year. Even before the pandemic, 40 percent of employees would leave a company within five years if they receive poor training. In a post-COVID world, employees may leave in a matter of months rather than years.During the first few months of the pandemic, banks focused on how to adapt and survive. Six months later, it’s important that bank leaders now focus on how their workforce can move forward and better respond to future disruptions. Building a company culture that focuses on creating community through listening and regular recognition will create a resilient workforce equipped to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

About the Author:
As the Chief Customer Officer at Achievers, Vanessa Brangwyn is focused on helping clients develop and cultivate successful employee engagement programs that ultimately align with and contribute to the attainment of strategic business objectives.

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