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1999 Quality of Life Optimas Award Profile Fannie Mae

March 1, 1999
Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Featured Article
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Think for a moment: When was the last time you heard of a company that offers 10 hours of paid leave every month for volunteer work? Or matches the hours an employee volunteers with grants from the company’s foundation? Or provides a "forgivable" loan to eligible employees to use as a down payment or for closing costs on a new home?

Welcome to Fannie Mae’s neighborhood, where community investment and employee work/life initiatives work together to generate growth opportunities for the Washington D.C.-based financial service company. "Our public mission heightens our sense of corporate citizenship as we seek to have a positive impact on our employees, our community and the nation we serve," says Franklin D. Raines, the company’s chairman and CEO.

By doing right by its 3,800 employees and thousands of communities across the country, Fannie Mae has consistently and successfully served its corporate mission of providing affordable housing and home ownership for low- and moderate-income Americans. It continues to be recognized by various magazines and public service agencies—as well as its own employees—as one of the best companies to work for in Corporate America.

"When your corporate goal is to put people into houses, you spend a lot of time and energy making sure your employees are happy, and that they get involved in their communities," says Tom Nides, Fannie Mae’s senior vice president of human resources. "It clearly works to our advantage, but then we really do want to make a difference."

And in making a difference, Fannie Mae promotes goodwill in communities where the company wants to generate business. The organization fosters a sense of community among employees working side-by-side in both the corporate world and the world at large.

On becoming a good employer and neighbor.
According to a 1999 policy paper by the Center for Work & Family at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, to become profitable and viable in the new century, companies need to find new ways to build the confidence and trust of their employees and their families, and the communities they serve. "Human resources managers are often surprised to discover that the employer-sponsored opportunities for volunteerism tend to increase not only employee commitment and morale, but the company’s reputation in the broader community," says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, the center’s director and one of the authors of the policy paper.

And to the extent that a company can generate business, all the better. To date, Fannie Mae has financed $2.5 trillion in home mortgage loans for 31 million families, making it the country’s largest source of home mortgage funds. "We’re a driven organization, but we have a culture that wants its employees to know they need to balance work with family," says Nides. "That’s why we encourage them to get involved in their communities."

The company focuses on housing, outreach programs, communications with minorities and those who need the extra hand to get to the top. It helps employees participate in community outreach programs by granting them 10 hours of paid leave every month for volunteer work and by recognizing them for their accomplishments. All programs are managed by the Fannie Mae Foundation, a separate entity, but fully funded by the corporation.

Additionally, the Foundation works with specific business units and departments to create opportunities for their teams to participate in volunteer service projects, and it matches the hours an employee volunteers with grants. Recognition programs consist of corporate awards that are granted to those employees who have demonstrated a particularly high commitment to community service. Last year, Fannie Mae employees participated in more than 16,000 hours worth of community service projects.

Balancing work and home life.
Community investment isn’t the only reason why people are proud to work for the federally-charted, shareholder-owned corporation, and why it has been awarded this year’s Optimas for "Quality of Life." The company continues to encourage its employees to balance their work and home life.

Fannie Mae’s human resources department, for example, has implemented several quality-of-life initiatives over the years, including childbirth/adoption leave, peer mentor programs, employer-assisted housing, and emergency child care. "We strive to make every effort to support our employees at all stages of their careers and lives," says Susan Holik, vice president of human resources.

Two years ago, Fannie Mae created a task force to study existing work/life initiatives and implement new ways to support the company in its efforts to build a culture committed to work, family and community. Responses to a companywide survey revealed several areas that needed to be fine-tuned. Although Fannie Mae already offered flexible working hours, employees were reluctant to participate in the program because they wanted to be reassured that asking for flextime wouldn’t hurt their careers. In the first six months of the new initiative, 400 more employees signed up for the program.

"Our training program goes beyond merely telling managers which work/life options are available," says Holik. "We also teach them how to use the programs and approve or deny an employee’s request on a business basis. We understand employees’ work/life needs are unique and they’re constantly changing."

For example, according to another 1999 policy paper published by Boston College’s Center for Work & Family, the involvement of working parents in their children’s education is a critical business strategy. "If employees can get involved in their children’s schools through their employers, they’ll become more productive, more loyal and be absent less," says Judi Casey, the center’s senior research associate.

Volunteerism adds to corporate values.
Fannie Mae’s director of Internet engineers, Doug Griffiths, has been with the organization for seven years. He admits he approached the company about employment because of its housing assistance program for employees. The company matched his down payment, which helped him pay closing costs. Eighty percent of that loan is forgivable after five years of employment. "I’m three years into it, and loving life," he says.

Of course, he’s also enjoying the volunteer work he does for the homeless and other groups, raising money and awareness through the Fannie Mae Foundation. "Our work here is intense and sometimes competitive," he says. "But it helps to see that same level of commitment and intensity with the volunteer work the company does. There are VPs who work beside me in the homeless shelter one Saturday a month. It’s an added value that’s hard to put into dollar figures."

The rewards for these programs are plentiful, according to company officials. Morale is high and Fannie Mae has a low annual turnover of 7 percent. "It’s part of our core values," says Holik. "It’s enmeshed in the culture of the organization. We’re doing a lot of exceptional things for our employees, but it’s not entirely altruistic. We also know it’s good for business. People want to stay with a company that invests in them and the community. People like to buy houses in communities that are working."

Changes in the business environment and the emergence of new business priorities have convinced business leaders they need to develop fresh perspectives about corporate social responsibilities. Fannie Mae, for one, has recognized that employer-supported work/life strategies that are linked to community investments can enhance the company’s capacity to respond to the work/family priorities of its employees, and boost returns. By building a diverse and caring workforce, the financial service company has become both a neighbor to the community and a friend to its employees.

Workforce, March 1999, Vol. 78, No. 3, pp. 66-71.

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