Volunteerism Bolsters Employee Commitment

March 1, 1999
Workforce spoke with Tom Nides, senior vice president of human resources, about Fannie Mae’s work/life initiatives for employees, and its outreach programs for the community. The highlights:

Do you feel people actually come to work for Fannie Mae because of its work/life initiatives and its outreach programs?
It’s a combination of those things, yes. But everything flows from our corporate mission statement to put low- and moderate-income people in houses. We’re also practical in our understanding that every individual employee has his or her own needs, and we have a reputation in Corporate America for addressing those needs. Consequently, when people come to us for jobs, the first thing they ask about is our benefits programs. We try to provide the whole smorgasbord of benefits for our employees, and also to use those programs as recruiting tools to bring new employees into the company.

Why all this time, money and effort on corporate social responsibility when employee loyalty is tenuous, at best?
Our turnover is well below 10 percent, which is terrific for a financial service company. We don’t buy into the proposition that employees aren’t loyal. People want roots; they want to feel a part of a company. If you can give them a reason to stay, they’ll stay. People leave all the time, sure, but we find good business for us is keeping our employees here. We spend thousands and thousands of dollars training each and every employee for the sole purpose to keep them here. The longer they’re here, the more they understand the company and that makes for a better employee, and ultimately a better company.

You grant 10 hours paid leave per month for volunteer work. How has this impacted the company’s bottom line?
It’s had no measurable impact on revenues, but then I would argue it’s hard to measure these things. On the other hand, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well these programs are received by our employees. We’ve probably had upwards of 30 percent employee participation, and we’ve just come off a phenomenal year.

Why is it important that employees balance their work and home lives?
For instance, if employees know their company is willing to help them when there’s a family health-care crisis, then they’ll want to come to work and they’ll stay focused on their work. A lot of our employees have children, and they think it’s terrific that we encourage them to volunteer at their children’s schools. We want our employees to know they need to balance work and family because if they’re not happy at home, they won’t be happy at work.

Do you believe the profitability and viability of a company depends on its ability to gain the confidence, support and trust of its employees and their families, as well as the community?
It’s our number one issue. If you don’t have the loyalty of your employees, then you have a company that’s not on the cutting edge. Our employees like to come here. We have a company that’s relatively small by number, but large in capital. Consequently, we need to count on a small number of people to do an enormous amount of work. We want them motivated and fired up to come to work.

Have you been able to track a link between your efforts to be a neighbor to the community and enhanced employee productivity?
This isn’t a complete science, but we survey our employees every 18 months. We really care about what they think. We’ve tried to find out what motivates them. This much is clear: The things we do for the community as they relate to our corporate mission—building houses, getting involved in volunteer programs—are very much part of what people respond to at Fannie Mae. To me, our employees believe this company is committed to our programs in the communities and that makes them feel better. We believe our employees are happy about working here, and consequently their productivity is linked to their happiness.

Have you developed any fresh perspectives about corporate-community relationships?
We’ve decided that what communities really want is bricks and mortar, not a lot of mumbo-jumbo or fancy press releases. They want real buildings. So we’ve decided to focus on cities in tangible ways. People want things they can touch and feel, and we believe that’s what we can provide. We’ve decided to play that role in cities by bringing builders, realtors and community groups together, and then providing some of the money to make a difference in the community. People want real money and real progress. And that’s been our focal point from day one.

Workforce, March 1999, Vol. 78, No. 3, p. 70.