I recently met with a head of school at a coffee shop on a Friday afternoon. I asked how he could take time off from his leadership role on a busy school day. He explained that early in the year, he had proactively planned a day off school in consideration of the stresses that teachers felt in this particularly difficult school year. I knew right away that this head of school led with empathy and thought of school employees as whole people.
Employees stay with a school or nonprofit when they feel valued and cared for. No one wants to be treated like a potted plant from the florist that dries up from lack of water, is thrown out, and is later replaced by a new plant that will soon meet the same fate. Employees are the physical and emotional embodiment of the mission of the nonprofit and the most precious expression of organizational values. Everything employees do, whether facing inward towards the internal workings of the nonprofit or outward to the public, expresses your organizational mission.
If you want to avoid frequent turnover and keep great employees at every level, here are five ideas to help you express to your employees their value and vital importance to the organization.
1. Fair Compensation
Employees feel valued when they are compensated for the value they bring to the nonprofit. Communicate your care by increasing salaries for nonprofit staff. A 2020 Forbes NonProfit Council article stated, “…we need to overcome the mindset that people should join the nonprofit world solely for altruistic reasons. …Why do we expect such sacrifice from those who serve valiantly?”
Elevate the issue of fair compensation with your board members. Most likely, they are all better compensated than your nonprofit’s employees. Why should board members assume that employees should work for less than their professional peers in order to prove they believe in the mission of the nonprofit ? Do they feel that nonprofits require less professionalism and skill than the business world?
Efforts for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workforce are cut short by low compensation in nonprofits. In many cases, unless an employee has generational wealth or a spouse with a high salary, they cannot afford to work for your nonprofit. And that decreases diversity because only those with an economic safety net will make the sacrifice to work in your nonprofit.
2. Listen to Employees
Employees feel committed to the mission of an organization when their voices matter. Involve all levels of employees in planning and rolling out needed changes. The Liberating Structures website provides 33 facilitation tools to engage very large or small groups of staff at all levels in creating organizational change. Inviting participation acknowledges the ownership of all employees in the mission of the nonprofit and their value as people who know things.
Listen to employees when making critical decisions by inviting them to review and give feedback on policies that affect them or to weigh in on important topics through surveys or emails asking for optional responses. Go to employees and ask for their thoughts in person- especially those who may never come to you. Don’t wait until an unpopular issue becomes a standoff. Proactively engage in listening to understand rather than to defend.
3. Communicate with Employees
Employees feel valued when they receive timely information. No one likes to feel like a small child left out of adult conversations. Communicate immediately in difficult or crisis situations, even when you don’t yet know what will happen. Sharing process updates and other information communicates respect and employee ownership in the mission. When a decision is shared, be sure to include the rationale that led you to that decision and to review the process that led there. Keep people updated via information-sharing emails and save meeting time for two-way engagement. People can delete emails if they don’t appreciate extra information, but some employees will love you for it. The employees who love learning more about the intricacies and big picture considerations of the nonprofit or school will be the future leaders. They will benefit from the way you model and externalize your decision-making process and ways of sharing information.
4. Treat Employees as Whole People
The best organizations to be a part of are those that prioritize wholistic worker care. At the same time employees further the mission, they are also dealing with aging parents, a pandemic, worrying health situations, upcoming weddings, and childcare scheduling. How can your organization flex to acknowledge these realities? A web of care is much better than having a hub of care that centers exclusively on a leader trying to do it all. Encourage a culture of mutual care by allowing staff to donate sick time or vacation days to each other, by keeping a small budget for sending flowers, or by encouraging a thoughtful administrative assistant to follow through on their idea to start a meal train. Spend nonprofit funds on an Employee Assistance Program to support mental health. Let employees know that you are shopping for better insurance or retirement fund options. Model the use of vacation time by unapologetically using it yourself. Encourage the use of vacation time when you check in with employees. If work spills into the evening hours, allow flex time to be taken within the same week. Model and encourage the use of out-of-office messages that tell people who to contact instead so that time away is truly time away.
5. Treat Employees as Colleagues
Employees stay with an organization when they feel that they are colleagues and not adversaries with leaders. When employees perceive themselves to be in an adversarial relationship with their leaders, there is no room for grace in either direction. Each assumes the other is only looking out for their own best interests. In contrast, colleagues experience mutual empathy and have a sense of tackling challenges together as different parts of the same team. When you speak with employees, step away from your desk and your keyboard. Sit side by side in soft chairs or at a cleared work table. When your space is clear and you no longer have a desk between you, employees know that you are ready to listen, engage, and value them as a colleague.
Employees are your organization’s most valuable asset. They are not mechanical inputs in a well-oiled machine. Wonderfully human employees embody everything that the organization hopes to achieve. Treat them accordingly.
If you'd like to talk more about this, please be in touch to set up a free discovery session.
Tags:nonprofit leadership, nonprofit sector, Non-Profit Leadership, Human resources, group process, listening, leading, Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi, resignation, compensation, retention, employees, turnover, school leadership, Clarity and Curiosity Blog
February 28, 2022