There are many factors affecting employee wellness and financial stress is one of them. However, there are also many things a credit union can do to help staff cope with life’s challenges.

By Alexandra Samur

Employees across industries report being more stressed than ever before. Interestingly, employers appear more ready than ever to listen — and to assist.

Workplaces where, even just a few years ago, “wellness” meant only the odd personal day and a few posters about employee assistance plans now feature chair massages, meditation sessions, yoga instruction and acupuncture. Even the most traditional employers now offer employee health clinics, counselling and wellness portals providing personalized wellness experiences.

Long a progressive participant in employee wellness efforts, Coast Capital Savings Credit Union (547,000 members, $15.8 billion in assets) recently launched workshops putting special emphasis on mental health. A recent Deloitte study shows that as many as 84 percent of employees experience physical, psychological or behavioural symptoms of poor mental health. A Conference Board of Canada study reveals mental health issues in the workplace cost Canadian employers an estimated $20.7 billion each year in lost labour force participation.

Clearly, relevant programing is needed more than ever. “When we look at mental health issues, it’s across Canada and it’s everywhere,” says Lyne Moussa, the British Columbia-based credit union’s wellness, safety and disability manager. “So mental health is something we need to pay attention to. We need to reduce stigmas, get people support, or make support available to them,” Moussa says.

Created for staff in leadership positions, Coast Capital Savings’ day-long workshop begins with an overview of why mental health in the workplace matters; the second part focuses on the various ways leaders can help support staff members’ psychological well-being and the impact they have in their roles.

“The workshop has been hugely impactful and we’ve just rolled out a pilot for the same course but for all staff,” says Moussa. “Ultimately, the goal is to have employees coming through this workshop and coming out of it with a different lens on how they view mental health for themselves, their families and their peers.”

Concerns over finances a factor

Concerns over financial well-being are often an underlying cause of employee mental health challenges. In fact, a Canadian Payroll Association survey reveals half of Canadian employees say they suffer from economic anxiety that impacts them at work. The impact on workplaces includes a decline in worker morale, productivity and business profits. That’s why, says Eloise Duncan, principal of Seymour Consulting and co-founder of the Financial Health Index, financial wellness education needs to be made a priority.

For credit unions, the stakes are high: how can employees advise members on money matters if they themselves aren’t well educated about financial health? “If you are trying to deliver an authentic experience, people have to feel it themselves,” says Duncan. “If you’re trying to encourage your employees to have those deeper conversations with members around those stresses, but they don’t feel supported in that way, it’s extremely difficult.”

Working with credit union clients, Seymour Consulting has investigated the employee banking experience and assesses why or why not an employee may do their primary banking with a credit union that is their employer. Identifying what’s holding an employee back from actually doing their banking with a credit union and from otherwise feeling financially supported helps identify opportunities for organizations looking to enhance their members’ banking experience, including for member-employees.

Low-budget ideas can work

Often equipped with comparatively less staff or resources, leadership at smaller credit unions may feel wellness initiatives are difficult to justify amidst competing priorities. But Sandra Kokorudz, a human resources adviser with a focus on engagement and wellness at Coastal Community Credit Union (120,000 members, $2.3 billion in assets) in Nanaimo, BC, disagrees. Having worked in the area for 13 years, Kokorudz relies on an arsenal of low-budget and no-budget ideas — like potlucks, walking and lunch and learns — as vehicles to advance wellness initiatives.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to health. Based on employee feedback, last year Kokorudz and her team helped launch an employee wellness challenge stemming from an idea for a board game, resulting in a passport filled with monthly activities for employees to track their own physical and mental health goals. “It’s also important to look at health activities for the pure fun and joy; these foster engagement and team building,” says Moussa. “Having a wellness committee is a great way to start, with many hands making lighter work and many voices amplifying the message.”