By Leslie Beckbridge
In 2014, employee engagement is going to be more important than ever. This is due to many factors, but one that may not be on your radar is the continuous job search phenomenon (we’ve called this passive job seeking for years now). Dan Schawbel of Forbes went so far as to dub the continuous job search as one of the Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2014, citing statistics saying that “73% of workers don’t have a problem looking for new employment before leaving their current employer and 48% of millennials say they conduct job search activities at work.” This indicates that high rates of turnover within the nonprofit sector are not likely to reduce as more jobs come available and employees feel more comfortable risking a transition. Instead of tightening policies regarding use of time and technology during work hours, employers ought to examine factors such as culture, compensation, and benefits that drive improved engagement, thereby leading to increased employee retention and decreased turnover. Your best talent will stick with you if they find that they are happier in their current position than they could reasonably expect to be somewhere else. So, the question is: what makes employees happy?
Organizational culture is one way to make employees happy. When the culture matches the work to be done and the personalities/work styles of the employees, people are likely to enjoy their time at work. Everything from the physical workspace to the mission of the organization contribute to culture and should be reflections of each other. Culture is a manifestation of the values practiced within the organization, but it is common for value-laden decisions to demonstrate different priorities than the values touted in the employee handbook or hanging on the office walls. For example, if collaboration is stated as one of your values and your office is divided into individual work spaces, you may be conveying mixed messages to your workforce. How do you collaborate when you are confined to your own area away from others? Cultural alignment fosters employee satisfaction because everyone understands the priorities and practices. One exercise you can use to build engagement is to ask employees to reflect on what they see as the values of the organization or, for larger groups, the department they work in. Prompt them by asking what behaviors or skills they see being emphasized by leadership through processes of hiring and promotion. You can distill the responses of the group down to the most common themes (generally, you will find that most people report similar values) and then put that list alongside your “official” values list to see how what you say you value lines up with what you value in practice. Keep in mind that dissonance fosters distrust and disengaged employees. If there are significant differences between the practiced values and the theoretical values, it is likely time to revisit the values list to create alignment. Once you have established your list, be sure to examine how your values are embodied throughout the organization and its work. While you may not be able to change the configuration of your physical office space, you can incorporate values into your interviewing and performance management conversations. Values should be evident and embodied in every aspect of your work from programming to board relations to fundraising. A vibrant culture reflective of organizational priorities will inevitably follow.
Compensation is one of the stickiest problems that nonprofit organizations face. While studies have shown that employee productivity is not as closely linked to monetary rewards as one might have thought, you should do your best to ensure that employees are financially secure and feel that they are being paid what they are worth to make them happy. Nonprofit employers have a reputation for underpaying and overworking their employees. Commonly, staff-members have responsibilities that would traditionally fall outside the role that their job-title suggests. Restrictions on the allocation of donations, grants and government funding often require the prioritization of direct-service programming and resources over capacity building and talent management. On top of that, nonprofit organizations that compensate generously are frequently criticized in the media for mismanaging their funds. We are vocal about our belief that nonprofit employees and executives deserve to be compensated fairly for their work. If your organization is budget-restricted, it is important to be clear and up front with employees about their compensation and the limits of the organization’s funding. At the same time, you should make intentional decisions about what is realistic and responsible while prioritizing recruiting and retaining talent.
In the absence of a competitive salary, many nonprofits are getting creative with their benefits offerings to make their workers feel happy at work. This often goes beyond the usual fare of paid leave, retirement contribution/match and health insurance plans to include telework options, casual dress policies, being able to bring pets to work, on-site low-cost childcare, on-site health clinics, free or low-cost meal options, private low-cost exercise classes and much more. Something as small as a card to recognize an important anniversary with the company can go a long way toward employee satisfaction. Often, these perks can be implemented at low or no cost to the organization through creative fundraising and strategic partnerships. Personally, I would trade a higher salary for working in an environment where I feel taken care of holistically.
You cannot prevent your employees from looking into other opportunities, and you shouldn’t try to. For one thing, it is useful for you to know what other organizations are offering, so you should encourage your team to report back their findings. Transparency about the fact that other opportunities exist and that people deserve to pursue their dreams will encourage employees to be transparent with you about their plans, which will prevent you from having to scramble through a transition process when someone unexpectedly turns in their resignation letter. Finally, a good retention strategy is also a good recruitment strategy. By creating a reputation as an employer who values their people, you will find that top talent will come to you and save you money on finding them.