HR experts predict Central Indiana nonprofits will need to be creative in combating high employee turnover

by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

(First in a series of articles about Charitable Advisors’ NFPN “How Are You Doing?” survey)
Many nonprofit employees in Central Indiana appear to be dissatisfied, with 40 percent reporting that they’re likely to change jobs in the next 90 days, according to a Not-for-profit News survey of 461 respondents. Of those, 21 percent said there’s a 50 percent chance they would change jobs and 20 percent rated that possibility as “very likely” — at least a 70 percent chance.

That number shifts from 40 percent to nearly 54 percent when the timeline for a potential job change is expanded to “within the next 12 months.” According to the 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, voluntary turnover — situations in which employees choose to leave their jobs — is typically 25 percent.

When asked what mattered to them most in a job, survey respondents cited flexible schedule (68 percent), higher pay (57 percent) and remote work (47 percent) as their top three criteria.

One survey respondent said, “Don’t make me come back to the office more. I am far more productive at home. There is no need to commute 1.5 to 2 hours in a day to attend a 1-hour meeting. If virtual worked at the height of the pandemic (when you wanted it) then it can still work now (when I want it).

Another said, “The culture at my institution is completely broken. Trust between the staff and leadership at the senior and board level has fully dissolved. Within my own department I don’t feel like there are advancement opportunities for me, but more broadly, many staff feel discouraged, undervalued, and heartbroken over continued institutional shortcomings. If my employer were to provide a clear advancement plan for me and work towards more transparency between leadership and the staff, I would love to stay.”

Burnout was cited as a major problem by numerous survey respondents. One employee responded, “Get me help. I cannot do this alone and I am drowning,” while another commented that they needed “more help in the office and fewer long nights.”

The survey findings reflect recent trends throughout the state of Indiana, according to Megan Nail, vice president, Total Rewards Practice, for First Person Advisors, and state director for the HR Indiana Society for Human Resource Management.

“I hear from HR professionals and employers throughout the state of Indiana, and what they’re dealing with,” Nail said. “The pandemic has impacted mental health, wages and our ability to recruit and retain employees. I have never seen anything like this in the 20 years that I’ve been in the profession.”

Chelsea DuKate, founder and HR people consultant for Red Envelope Consulting, said employers will need to consider remote work as the new normal — not the exception in the coming years.

Unlike years ago, when employees placed a high value on the type of office accommodations their employer offered, such as an office with large windows, that is no longer the case, DuKate said.

“There’s been a total shift around the flexibility of working from home. Leaving our house to commute to work for even 10 minutes is a barrier,” she said. “A lot of people are still recovering mentally from the ups and downs of 2020, and what we’re going through even now. It’s too much effort to go into the office. They don’t want to do it, and they don’t care if their bank account takes a hit.”

When determining how to proceed with a work policy, whether it’s a hybrid model or fully remote or fully in-person, it’s important to ensure that you include employees in the decision-making process, DuKate said.

“There has to be an employee voice in whatever decisions are being made,” she stressed. “Give employees the option to take a vote before determining what’s best. As long as they feel their voice is represented, employees may still decide to leave but not leave with a chip on their shoulder.”

DuKate also said that understanding and meeting employees’ needs can be a significant step in increasing retention rates. Many nonprofits, especially smaller organizations, are unable to compete with for-profit and larger organizations on salary, she pointed out.

Besides flexible schedules, higher pay and remote work, survey respondents cited several other ways that their current employer could enhance retention rates, including the following:

  • Stop micromanaging
  • Listen to ideas to stop the high rate of turnover
  • Offer more opportunities for growth and leadership
  • Transparency and better communication
  • Non-toxic culture
  • Higher pay, advancement, connection
  • Benefits in lieu of pay, possibly a shorter work week (four days would be lovely)
  • More frequent reminders that they value me
  • Increase my pay; I’ve only had two raises in 15 years
  • More employee appreciation beyond words
  • Reduce number of weekly meetings; slow pace down a bit
  • Comprehensive benefits
  • More time off options. There has been no break since COVID started. It’s taking a toll on the physical and mental health of our team and colleagues

When employees were asked how they felt about their leadership and organization’s mission, the survey responses were nearly evenly divided in their opinions:

  • 36 percent said they “gained new respect for our leadership and our mission over the past year.”
  • 35 percent reported feeling “the same about my employer as I did before the pandemic.”
  • 29 percent said they “lost confidence or respect for my employer over the past year.”

On the question related to their relationship with their supervisors, employees also were nearly even divided in their responses:

  • 37 percent rated their relationship with their supervisor as “excellent/very good”
  • 33 percent rated it as “pretty good”
  • 30 percent responded that they “don’t feel connected to my supervisors/leaders”

The survey findings point to the need for nonprofit organizations to be more creative and intentional in attracting and retaining employees, especially if there isn’t an option for significantly increasing pay, Nail said.

“As an employer, you need to ask, ‘What type of culture are you building?’ ‘How are you connecting that to your mission?’,” Nail said. “It all starts with communication and trust, especially during COVID. The world is so busy, and there’s so much we have going on at any time. If you’re having employees work remotely, you have to be even more intentional about communication, trust and relationships.”

Nail also said organizations should recognize the advantages of being in the nonprofit sector.

“Hopefully, the positive side of all this is that it’s forcing employers of all types — for profit and nonprofit — to be really creative about understanding their employees needs and coming up with unique ways to support them,” she said. “The good news for nonprofits is that it’s not all about money. That’s certainly a part of it but there is so much more than that.

“As human beings, many of us have stepped back and reassessed what we’re looking for in life. Nonprofits can play a really important part in answering that question by providing meaningful work. Employees can really feel like they’re contributing to making our community a better place. That’s a unique value proposition nonprofit employers can leverage during this time.”

Organizations that invest time and effort in enhancing workplace culture, management and mission building and offer flexibility will be able to more effectively compete for highly qualified employees, Nail said.

“People will think twice about leaving a good culture where they feel like there’s good communication, they believe in the mission, their supervisor supports them, and it’s a job that works with their personal life,” she said. “Those things are irreplaceable.”