Helping Employees In Financial Hardship

In late 2008, the U.S. economy was in freefall and organizations across the country were trying to stabilize their businesses to prevent further profit and job losses. A midsize community bank in Chicago realized that its employees, much like the community, were being heavily impacted by the recession.   
"We started hearing stories of employees in need," said the Senior Vice President of Human Resources for the bank.  "It was becoming clear that several employees who previously had two- or three- income households where having hours and jobs cut down to one. So, we started thinking about what we could do to provide resources to them and how to communicate about those programs."

The answer was not far from reach. 

The bank had a well established community effort dedicated to addressing housing, food, school, and welfare needs throughout the year.  They immediately chose to extend their community programs to employees in need.

That decision led to several efforts to help employees experiencing an unanticipated acute need or personal financial hardship (often due to unexpected changes in family circumstances, like significant medical expenses or spouse's job loss.) Programs included:

• Food Assistance.  Jewel/Osco gift cards for Summer, Thanksgiving & Christmas
• Financial Assistance.  One paycheck amount, up to $1000, in a 1-year period
• Holiday Toy Drive.  Boy/girl age appropriate gifts for children of families in need
• School Supply Drive.  Age appropriate supplies at the start of the school year  

But a challenge remained: How to determine the criteria for eligibility, and manage the programs in a way that treated employees with respect and made them feel comfortable accepting assistance.


Perspectives Ltd, a provider of high-touch employee assistance program (EAP) and workplace resources, had been the bank's EAP since 2001, but use of the benefit by the bank's employees had not been consistent.

"There wasn't a general understanding of EAP before this effort," said the SVP of HR.

But because Perspectives' high-touch EAP is also an employee relations partner for HR, the SVP tapped his Perspectives Account Manager for advice.   "Perspectives was great," he said.  "They brainstormed with us and made recommendations about eligibility criteria, how to communicate about the programs and how they could help manage access to the assistance."

It was determined that the financial assistance program would be managed by the bank, but employees would be encouraged to call Perspectives EAP as part of the agreement.  Perspectives EAP Counselors were then able to assess any additional issues contributing to, or resulting from, financial stress and offer help and resources for those issues.

The food and toy assistance programs were more heavily managed by the EAP.   

Perspectives EAP was promoted in communications about the programs and employees were encouraged to call the EAP if they were interested in the assistance.  Perspectives EAP then assessed each caller's needs and made sure that they met the eligibility requirements - such as having been employed with the bank for 90 days.

In addition, Perspectives EAP coordinated the delivery of food gift cards, and ensured that the proper toys were selected for children - all with 100% confidentiality.

"Now employees get it," said the SVP.  "There is a comfort level that the EAP is confidential."


More than 200 examples of employees taking advantage of the programs and receiving assistance were recorded.  No employee names were ever disclosed to the bank, but Perspectives was able to report on the number of employees that used each program and provided feedback on what was working well and/or concerns that were being voiced.
"Was it a success?  Absolutely," said the SVP.  "My guess is that we'll do this again now that we want an employee component to each of our community efforts.  We may not do the same thing each time, but we will likely build on what we've done and learned."

The bank intends to review what they will do with EAP each quarter.

"One of our goals is to continually strengthen trust with our employees and our community.  Perspectives EAP was an important part of this effort because it allowed us to maintain that wall of confidentiality while delivering services to people who needed them," he said.


Although the company already had a history of success delivering community programs, Perspectives EAP helped the organization extend those programs to employees facing hardship, in a confidential manner.

"We wanted the EAP involved to help us better understand what resources people needed, to triage when a financial situation was a symptom of something else, and to enable us to help employees while respecting their pride and privacy," said the SVP.  "Perspectives EAP helped us make these programs a success."