Have you ever accepted a job knowing before you even got to orientation day that you wouldn't be there very long? It can be an unsettling feeling, and certainly diverges from the way past generations did their work. My partner's grandfather worked at the same oil company from high school graduation to his retirement party. Of course, not many of us are offered pensions and post-retirement health care coverage anymore, so the incentives have changed regarding company loyalty. And in the non-profit field, there are unique structural situations that may have us planning our exit strategy before our current job even gets our direct deposit information. There are some strategies to ensure the only turnover your agency faces are the ones on the pastry tray at the staff meeting.
Opportunity for Growth A lot of non-profits are tiny. When there are few layers between you and the top, it may foster a nice relationship with leadership where an entry level employee has daily face-time with the CEO, but it also means there is not much room for promotion. Turnover is a problem for these organizations because people want to be rewarded for the efforts, and often with added titles and promotions. They want their hard work and increased knowledge to add up to something.
Professional Development If an organization cannot offer endless ascending spheres of promotion like some larger employers, an employee may be just as happy knowing they are learning and growing in their knowledge, if not changing titles. According to AdWeek, 87% of Millennial workers say that professional development opportunities are a top reason they stay at a job. 69% of other working age groups agreed. Providing this doesn't have to mean big ticket items like paying for a degree or certification, but access to regular, best practice skill-building in the field. If you are in a field where employees have licenses to maintain, helping foot the bill for their continuing education is a huge perk that may keep a person invested in their job with you for quite some time. Licensed social workers, for example, require about 30 hours of continuing education over a two year licensing period, depending on the state. As an employer, you can offer to pay for credits that relate specifically to the work they do for you so it also benefits your organization. Need to really keep things low-cost? I have a consulting client that just did not have the budget to offer much training, so we instituted a book club around topics the staff wanted to learn more about, and brought in a local topic expert to facilitate the discussion.
Lack of HR/Protocols and Processes Large organizations and many for-profit corporations of any size typically have an HR department and a clear protocol for dealing with grievances and problems. In a small non-profit, it is common for there to be no HR department, leaving employees without a clear chain of command regarding complaints and issues. Many employee handbooks I've seen cite the CEO or executive director as this person—but what if that is the person about whom you need to file a complaint? Going to their “boss,” the President of the Board, is sure to be awkward. Even with policies in place about protecting “whistle blowers,” you can understand why someone on a staff of four people would still not feel comfortable raising concerns about their CEO to the Board. That employee usually quits, and elects not to share their concerns even as they exit, for fear of “burning bridges” in a field where everyone seemingly knows one another.
The cost of turnover is huge to an organization. A Center for American Progress report found that for a mid-range salaried employee (~$40,000) the cost to search, interview, hire, and train a vacant position can cost $20,000 to $30,000. Read that again. If you have a program manager making $40,000 annually and you only keep them for a year, you've spent $70,000 on that role. And if you have to replace it twice in a year?
Surely the above tips are cheaper than that. As many non-profit workers agree and often espouse when fighting for money to serve their clients, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That goes for our organizations, too.
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