united-way-ccRecently I was privileged to attend a United Way Worldwide Center of Excellence highlighting United Way of Chittenden County’s innovative Working Bridges™ initiative. The learning experience featured a visit to United Way partner, The University of Vermont Medical Center, Vermont’s university hospital and medical center. Accompanying us on our tour was United Way of Chittenden County’s Lisa Jensen, the UVM Medical Center’s on-site Working Bridges Resource Coordinator. It is Lisa’s job to help employees manage their resource needs without having to leave work.

Lisa led the way through the halls of the medical center, but it was slow going. Every few feet, we had to stop because people were coming up to Lisa, smiles on their faces, wanting to hug her, greet her, and chat with her. Listening to employees and supervisors tell their stories, and witnessing the power of Working Bridges, impressed me deeply and brought to life the informal Working Bridges motto I’d been hearing for two days, “It’s all about relationships”.

Working Bridges is an employer collaborative dedicated to improving workplace productivity, retention, advancement and financial stability for employees.  Employers know the success of their businesses and economic health of the community depends on employee retention and enhanced productivity. Through Working Bridges, they also recognize a steady job is the most reliable ticket out of poverty for individuals.  Working Bridges strives to:

  • Increase collaboration between employers and service providers;
  • Address the workplace implications of personal financial instability and lack of resources; and
  • Create workplace practices that are a “win-win-win” for individuals, employers and communities. [i]

Reducing the rate of employee turnover among their environmental service staff is a key part of the UVM Medical Center’s efforts to improve their quality scores. And it has paid off. They ranked seventh nationally for quality in 2013. The environmental science staff turnover rate, which had ranged from 30-60 percent, is now down to 3 percent. While there are other factors at play in their success, Elizabeth Madigan, Director of Human Resources, also gives credit to Working Bridges. “Working Bridges is this gem. We knew we had needs and partnering with United Way and other organizations has been huge for us,” says Elizabeth.

The UVM Medical Center knows that life circumstances can quickly undercut an employee’s ability to work. Some have had to walk off the job because they had to find a place to live or go get food for their families. Others have had to refuse raises because they’ve approached the “benefits cliff” – the point at which increased pay could cause them to lose their federal benefits, including food stamps or housing subsidies. For low wage workers, losing your childcare, or depending on food banks that are open only during the work day, can put impossible strains on an already fragile budget.

These are not theoretical scenarios. They have happened to people living and working in Burlington, and they are probably going on right now in your own town.  But if you are fortunate enough to be working as custodial staff in the medical center’s environmental services department, you can, with the enthusiastic support of your supervisor, take a quick break to visit with Lisa Jensen. Talking with Lisa, you discover that the UVM Medical Center offers a benefit called Income Advance Loans – loans that can be quickly processed in about a day at reasonable interest rates by both your employer and local credit union, and easy to repay over six months using payroll deduction. Problem solved, and financial disaster averted. You may even find that when you’ve paid back your income advance loan, you can now afford to start building up savings by allowing the payroll deduction to continue. That sounds like a win-win to me!

Lynn M. Tveskov is a Knowledge Manager at United Way Worldwide. Her goal is to help people learn from each other in order to bring about real community change in education, income and health. United Way Worldwide is the leadership and support organization for the network of nearly 1,800 community-based United Ways in 41 countries and territories. United Way improves lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good.

© 2014 UNITED WAY WORLDWIDE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

[i] From the Working Bridges web site: http://www.workingbridges.org/

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