Wednesday, January 23, 2019 - 2:58pm

Deborah Robles headshot

posted by
Deborah Robles
Summer 2018 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management
Program Manager, A New Leaf - Mesa, AZ

You are the manager of a nonprofit and find yourself exhausted by your efforts managing difficult staff, recruiting new staff and placing remaining energy into high-performing staff. Staff retention seems not only difficult, but near impossible to understand because of the intense amount of work. It is time to take a deep breath and consider the possibility you have approached staff retention incorrectly.

The Unemployment Services Trust (UST) administered a survey in 2015 to nonprofit executives, supervisors and nonsupervisory employees to understand factors contributing to job satisfaction, less employee turnover and more employee retention in the nonprofit sector.

The following results provide a great deal of insight into the question at hand. In this survey, results show that 48 percent of employees want to enhance job satisfaction. Additionally, UST found the importance of culture or office environment of the organization, which ranked 62.2 percent. Additional results note the importance of flexibility and work-life balance at 58.4 percent. 

Furthermore, this study found the importance of hiring and retaining correct individuals while removing incorrect hires. Although there are many aspects to consider in staff retention, these findings provide a great deal of opportunity for management to approach this subject differently and find new approaches. 

Job satisfaction is clearly linked in this study and gives insight into why individuals choose to work in the nonprofit sector, how managers should hire the correct individuals and what leadership or systematic processes are needed to retain these individuals.

The office culture for one should be closely considered. Efforts to screen applicants and include thoughtful questions in the interview process could assist in this respect to see if any further insight can be received during the interview process. Given the individuals in the nonprofit sector tend to work well over the 40 hours, it is imperative to assure that the work environment is enjoyable. Some tools to help foster teamwork and staff recognition can be implemented.

This includes creating Employee of the Month opportunities for staff to nominate each other and positively recognize their peers. A work-life balance is also critical to the nonprofit’s employees who work tireless hours. As a result, allowing staff to more readily flex their hours can assist in restoring some of the lost hours with families and loved ones.

The importance of hiring the correct staff could not be overstated. Jim Collins provides in his book Good to Great many prime and important examples of nonprofit leaders who make the difficult decision to leave positions vacant if the correct individual is not found for the role. After all, taking into account the work environment only reinforces the need to ensure the employees are in fact the best option for the organization. 

Ultimately, staff retention is based on the reflection of the actions of the leaders within the organizations. Ultimately, there is not one key to ensuring the success of an organization in relation to staff retention. However, it is certainly possible to practice the different aspects, which together can all add to staff retention and assist in preventing burnout. So, take a deep breath again, it will all come together. 

Deborah Robles is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Transborder Chicano/Latino Studies with an emphasis on immigration policy in 2013 and is currently a Program Manager at A New Leaf. An Arizona native, she is passionate about helping organizations reach their full potential and migrant families/children in particular. 

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