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Just when people thought the pandemic was nearly over at the end of 2020, case numbers continued to rise across the country. As a result, this year, employers in the mortgage sector have faced workplace challenges similar to those highlighted in last year’s Top Mortgage Employers’ survey.
Chief among these challenges were striving for work-life balance, adapting to a remote workforce, the continued need for a comprehensive benefit package and the desire for a two-way dialogue between mortgage employers and their employees.
Most hardworking mortgage professionals were forced to work at home or, at the very least, adapt to a hybrid working model. This required dividing work time between a remote location and within the walls of their employer’s office. Not all employers saw this as a bad thing, however.
Cassidy O’Sullivan, chief operating officer at Mann Mortgage’s branch office in Arizona, feels that the effects of the pandemic forced an increased dialogue between employees and upper management, and further highlighted the continued “need for recognizing employees’ efforts and compensating them for their work.”
Ironically, the second year of a drawn-out pandemic proved to be one of the busiest years in recent memory. Mortgage rates remained at all-time low levels, while inventory remained tight across most real estate markets in the country.
The increased workload placed considerably more business on loan officers’ desks, raising a question: How would employers recognize the increased work stresses and compensate for the heightened demands on their employees?
Across the board, employees in this year’s survey expressed the desire for incentive packages to be prioritized by their employers. These incentive programs have taken various forms.
Mann Mortgage, one of the Top Mortgage Employers, has always thought carefully about its employees’ needs. COVID-19 amplified the company’s approach to put its employees first by offering innovative incentive packages.
“We believe in the entrepreneurial spirit. We value giving the necessary support to create a great work atmosphere and build relationships with the community,” says O’Sullivan.
Justin Flake, chief operating officer at the Montana head office of Mann Mortgage, described the company’s outside-the-box approach to an employee incentive during the COVID-19 turmoil.
“We have been very generous and realized that what our employees needed most was more time off – they were worn out,” he says. “So, we paid for a dinner to go out with family and to take a day off approved by their direct managers.”
What mortgage employees value most
It should come as no surprise that company culture popped up repeatedly as an important trend in this year’s survey answers.
One Atlantic Home Mortgage employee highlighted the family day that the company organizes yearly.
Likewise, a Family First Funding employee emphasized the benefits of a family fun day organized by the company, as well as an annual “kick off summer” party. Ongoing training and development also scored high on the list of employees’ must-haves.
One respondent mentioned MC Mortgage Group’s “Yearn to Learn” initiative, an in-house training program that focuses on personal and professional development designed for employees to achieve a 1% improvement level every day.
Weighing in on work culture, FormFree Mortgage noted that it focuses on a collaborative working approach, along with the idea of working as a team.
Most mortgage employees rated ongoing training and educational development among the top five priorities that mortgage employers should be directing their efforts toward. Also included in the top five was a focus on diversity in the workforce, benefit packages covering essentials such as medical insurance and dental care, work-life balance, and an open and inclusive management approach.
“With the heavy burden of healthcare costs, the wide-ranging challenges which present themselves daily and, of course, helping people prepare for their retirement, having a strong and extensive benefits package is an important factor in employee satisfaction,” says Tony Weick, president of Bell Bank Mortgage, a Top Mortgage Employer.
Handling the remote workforce
Along with COVID-19 came the realization that most employees would have to work remotely, and therefore be required to use technology to meet their business objectives.
As employees worked from home, their employers had to work hard to ensure the adaptation process ran smoothly. Bell Bank Mortgage embraced this reality.
“We believe the mortgage business is built on relationships. It just might not always be face-to-face,” says a company spokesperson.
Go Mortgage took an innovative approach. Not only did the company make a concerted effort to provide continuous contact between management and employees, but it also arranged a virtual board-game event to help employees feel connected while working remotely.
Most respondents geared their answers to reflect the appreciation they had for the many and varied initiatives their employers took during a time of great upheaval and potential isolation at the height of the pandemic.
Keys to workplace satisfaction
For mortgage employers to come out on top in this year’s survey, employees needed several prerequisites in place.
Employees needed to feel protected by a provision of comprehensive benefit packages. Diversity in the workplace was valued, and staying connected and utilizing technology were also paramount.
Employees also indicated that an attempt by mortgage employers to encourage an open dialogue was high on their list. A happy and inclusive work culture, whether physically in the office or in a work-from-home arrangement, was also rated highly.
“We found the key is having a culture that puts our employees first, providing an engaging, high-performing and fun environment, which allows our employees to succeed,” says Weick. “Happy employees, happy customers.”
The process of finding and recognizing the best employers in the US mortgage industry took place over two phases. First, MPA invited organizations to submit their details through a survey, where they were able to describe their offerings and business practices. Then, employees from the nominated companies were asked to fill out their own anonymous survey to rate their satisfaction with a number of key factors such as compensation, employee development, culture, and work environment.
Each company was required to meet a minimum number of employee responses based on overall size. Companies that achieved a satisfaction rating of 80% or greater were included in the Top Mortgage Employers list.