Modern benefits are indeed useful for retention but that is not the whole story. To be fully engaged, nonprofit employees need to feel they have a say in what goes on at work. The trick is, you must involve your staff in developing and implementing the critical cultural and environmental initiatives designed to engage them in their work. The following strategies for this are intuitive, low-cost and easy to execute.
Common Keys to Engagement
Studies have long proven that engaged employees are more likely to stay and disengaged employees are more likely to leave. But the question remains, how do you quantify, support and grow engagement? The 2018 State of the Workforce Management Report advises that a stressful work environment was tracked at 21% of reasons for failed retention, and limited opportunities for advancement cause more than one in ten employees to quit their job. You can avoid this by sharing openly how and when your nonprofit will remedy any such situation.
Make this dialogue part of a strategic retention plan to prevent and solve the crisis of disengagement. While setting up and maintaining a viable set of strategies presents its own challenges, they are minimal compared to problems posed by a lack of preparation. Another recent report²⁰ shows that 18% of executives say a lack of an employee engagement strategy is the biggest challenge they face. They're troubled by "an inability to measure and assess engagement" — a situation you can address by following some basic guidelines mentioned in this section. Then, you can solicit managers and employees to improve their work experience.
FIRST FOCUS: MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR MANAGERS
According to TLNT.com, "Up to 75% of the factors that frustrated [lost workers] and caused them to begin looking elsewhere were controlled by their manager." Advise your managers to get actively involved in working with staff on employee engagement and retention initiatives. Provide them with the tools to keep their staff happy and watch your retention levels rise.
A surprising half to three-quarters of all turnover is actually preventable, if managers know how to implement all the tools and strategies available. Do your managers have the tools they need? Help them to develop a loyalty leader mindset²¹, and your team will benefit greatly. Knowing what to suggest to managers can help in times when most employees are "at will" and free to resign, with or without notice.
Following are some low-cost Retention Tools provided by TLNT.com for managers that produce high-impact results:
Conduct "stay interviews." Ask current employees why they choose to stay. Once you know, you can implement strategies to support these reasons.
- Show them the impact of their work. This is a common tactic in nonprofit management, but if it has been a while since your staff has seen the beneficial results of their work in the community, make time for it.
- Ask highly valued employees to let you know if they plan to leave. If key employees are frustrated in their jobs and seeking other employment, wouldn't you want to know before they leave? Learn why they're making a change and discuss possible ways to keep them loyal.
- Identify what motivates your targeted employees. Be sure to know what keeps your highly valued employees in place. Compensation? Benefits? Culture? Mission? Their needs will likely change over time, so it's a good idea to survey them at least once a year.
- Develop a list of positive/negative job-related factors. Consider giving them more of what works and less of what doesn't. If their survey responses share that they enjoy working on a new piece of equipment, find out how you might update other equipment they use. Items that employees often report as negatives, such as paperwork or back-to-back travel, should be managed meaningfully in the employee's work schedule.
- Personalize Your Personnel Department. Maximize the impact of surveys by developing individualized employee retention plans for workers based on their responses. Show you know and care about their personal needs and wants.
- Work with staff to create personalized "how to manage me best" profiles. Ask workers to spell out the most-effective and least-effective strategies for their own management. Create a profile when they start at your organization and update it every couple of years.
- Give them a say in solving problems. Most staff members want to produce more, and often they know what is holding them back. Help them resolve barriers buried in the organization's culture, scheduling, or somewhere else.
Every one of the above recommendations will serve your organization well if used appropriately. Care should be taken, however, to follow the "spirit" that underlies this list: Know your employees' needs. If a manager has a longtime staff member who is overdue for promotion, sending an email of thanks for a successful project could backfire. This is especially true if the employee has been watching younger staff members hopscotch past them
SECOND FOCUS: GO STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE, THE STAFF
You've begun improving staff engagement by working with managers, but it's also critical to solicit employee involvement directly. Colorado Nonprofit Association Director of Membership Services Gerry Rasel has the distinct experience of working for a nonprofit that supports best-practices in other nonprofits. Personal experience informs her work. "My best tip for any nonprofit is that it's always about listening to your staff," she said. "I work at a place that is really, really good at that. As an employee, the respect I feel and the knowledge that my opinion is heard goes a long way to keeping me engaged at work."
Share timelines and give your employees a voice in the organization's retention initiatives. Implementing a plan is a critical beginning, but it's important to update your strategies regularly, and to do so you should hear the voices of your employees. Not all nonprofits make that effort. Nearly three-quarters of nonprofit executives make a conscious effort to engage employees, but only 37% report that they've recently updated their employee engagement plan. This reveals the underlying issue that many nonprofits fail to formalize their engagement plan schedule as much as they formalize other routines in the organization. With a formal schedule in place to ask, listen and respond to your staff members, you're more likely to raise employee engagement and hold it at acceptable levels. More than 70% of nonprofit executives surveyed cited "Increasing Employee Satisfaction & Engagement" as a priority. The only priority that earned a higher number was "Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent." So, whatever you can do to increase employee engagement and retention will go a long way to meeting what are likely the top two priorities of your nonprofit's leadership.
A Culture of Action
Dialoguing with your staff is important, but it can also be risky. If employees share their ideas but nothing is implemented — there's no active response — they will disengage altogether, quickly. You can prevent that disaster by moving forward efficiently with a culture that supports communication and action. Organize their input into four distinct areas for a coordinated response:
- Schedule regular informational sessions with various team leaders to explain the organization's status and opportunities for the future
- Create opportunities for employees to share their understanding of the organization's values.
- Create a transparent resources report so staff members can see and discuss openly where funds are allocated.
- Bring clients in to share their success stories and allow coworkers to share their successes that were dependent on the help of their teammates.
- Ask employees to write their own job descriptions when hired and then annually. Look for changes in the descriptions and let the manager and staff member work it out and then update HR if changes have occurred or if original descriptions were incorrect.
- Use an Intranet to encourage staff/leadership communication. Leaders can pose and answer questions online.
- Schedule a quarterly awards event that recognizes staff for their achievements. Avoid rewarding the same people repeatedly at the expense of quieter employees.
- Offer personal or professional coaching. Set up a budget and allocate a set number of sessions but allow the employee to maintain control regarding the content.
- Create a peer-tutoring program where workers can share extra-curricular or work-related skills with their fellow employees while improving public speaking skills and honing leadership abilities. Note responses to various topics.
You shouldn't throw everything at all four engagement areas at once. Don't risk chaotic and failing programs, especially when funding is tight and time to devote to these initiatives may be short. Organizations that report the most impactful results carefully select one or two projects at a time.
The good news is many engagement initiatives suggested from for-profits already happen in nonprofits. While your for-profit competition is trying to align their company with a purpose, your nonprofit has made a mission of it. Now, build on that with ideas that go beyond the usual:
- Healthy Snacks. Fewer than half of employers make healthy snacks or a healthy cafeteria available to their employees. Yet, three-quarters of employees want access to healthy foods onsite. Rethink the choices in your vending machine and take a vote for options to increase staff input.
- Vigorous Health and Wellness Programs. The economy is quickly moving to a freelance paradigm. Robust health and wellness programs make a significant draw for employees. Help build health, relaxation and fun by offering on-site yoga or dance classes.
- Have Fun. Set aside Friday afternoons for a staff activity that's just for fun and team-building. Host a scavenger hunt for animals in the local zoo, take a group bike ride, enjoy a frozen yogurt social or take a group painting class. Find something fun for everyone.
- Make It Visual. Create and share a flowchart that demonstrates how certain tasks performed by an employee ultimately help to fulfill the organization's mission.
- Let Them Explore. Create paths that help team members move laterally within the organization. A transferred worker can explore a new passion while you keep that person in the building.
- Make Leaders Approachable. Have the organization's leader host weekly office hours, two hours a week, where employees can explore ideas and concerns that keep them engaged.
- Pay Attention Online. Watch for patterns in Glassdoor reviews to spotlight areas that need improvement.
- Reward Coursework. Offer points or tangible rewards for those who take work-related open-source courses. Online classes and tutorials abound. Encourage your workforce to learn.
Think creatively, proactively and prudently, and you'll discover a multitude of affordable ways for your team to become involved in developing their own reasons for engagement.
his is an excerpt from UST’s eBook, “Innovative Strategies That Overcome Nonprofit Retention Barriers” in collaboration with Beth Black, Writer and Editor.