Nonprofit organizations have gone through wrenching changes because of the poor economy, a shortage of resources, and a changing workforce. Sometimes nonprofit managers feel overwhelmed when their employees become dissatisfied and there is considerable turnover.
What may be required is adaptation to a new world, rather than despair.
What today's employees want is what all workers have always wanted, whatever sector they work for or their generation: professional development, the chance to advance, clear expectations from managers, participation in the decisions that affect them, and feeling valued.
Churn, or turnover, is here to stay. The nonprofit sector is waking up to the facts of the 21st century workforce. It's different in profound ways and only partly because of the economy. The old way was slipping long before the Great Recession, and the financial problems that all businesses, for-profit and nonprofit, are experiencing have come to be called, the New Normal.
What if nonprofits embraced turnover instead of fighting it? Under the new rules, turnover is not a strange event but an inevitable, and, possibly, a welcome one. What if you wrote employee churn into your long-term plans? Rather than run, what would happen if you turned around and welcomed it? There would be a whole lot less tension all around.
Here are some ways nonprofits can embrace the new workforce...especially small, local nonprofits that usually feel a financial pinch much sooner than large, national organizations. If you are small, however, consider yourself fortunate...it may be a whole lot easier to change your ways.
- Wake up to the changing career arc. Learn about the four-year career and get used to Generation Flux. Once you accept that people will leave sooner rather than later, you can make employee recruitment an ongoing activity. In a small nonprofit, that job may fall to the ED and department heads, not a formal human resources department.
- Accept that the job you offer is only a stopover for your employees. Help employees develop their careers with full acceptance of the fact that your organization is only one small part of that. A happy employee that you have for two years is better than a disgruntled one who hangs on for 30 years.
- Facilitate employee growth. Encourage their participation in professional associations, and if you can't afford to pay the dues or part of them, make sure that employees know they can take the time to participate. Likewise, do what you can to help staff continue their educations and develop their skills through classes and workshops.
- Openly appreciate your employees. Sing their praises to the board, volunteers, donors, and service recipients. Even if an employee leaves, that appreciation will pay off. Think what their good will toward you could result in later -- donors, friends, new employees, and more.
- Adopt a generous work-from-home policy. One nonprofit I know in a metro area encourages employees to work from home at least one day a week. What a boon to those who have long commutes, not to mention the better work/life balance that ensues. They hold meetings on certain days so people know to be present, but also encourage Skyping into meetings.
- Ditch your bureaucratic corporate ways. Take a page from the playbook of small business startups and model the HR policies of the most progressive organizations. Leave rigid policies behind and develop flexible rules for workers.
- Spread out. Arrange physical space at the office to encourage conversations and informal meetings. We always talk about breaking down the silos, and open spaces invite that as well as deeper engagement. Avoid cubicle farms, private offices, and symbols of rank.
- Join the cloud. Work in the cloud so staff can easily collaborate and work from anywhere. We're going there anyway so do it sooner rather than later.
- Learn to love simple, sleek, portable technology. Use it, invest in it, welcome employees who love it. Get over your disapproving parent mode (and I've seen 40-year-olds engage in this as frequently as those on the cusp of retirement). Stop dissing social media. Embrace it...employees will be grateful and your organization will thrive.
- Flatten the organizational chart. Redesign your organizational structure to be as flat as you can get it. Hierarchies just don't work any more, if they ever really did. If you think you're as flat as you can get, try again. You can probably do even more.
- Train managers in up-to-date supervision strategies. "Compassionate" supervision helps distressed employees cope. Coaching techniques are much more appropriate for the new workforce than old-style command and control methods.
- Stop romanticizing the past. It wasn't as good as you remember. Get used to sharing power, mentoring, teaching, learning from your employees, mixing it up, constant feedback, getting yourself evaluated by your staff, humility, conversations instead of speeches, listening and then listening some more.
Honestly? People are not leaving you because of money or even overwork. They want change. Organizational change. Welcome to the new workforce.
Mission and purpose are the enduring elements of any cause-related organization. People who are drawn to mission and purpose are its treasure. Everything else can be adjusted.