In my last article I talked about providing employees with praise, recognition and meaningful feedback in order to retain staff and build the type of job satisfaction and longevity that creates a sustainable nonprofit.
For nonprofit fundraisers, the “Great Resignation” was happening long before the pandemic. In fact, per Penelope Burk at Cygnus Applied Research, the average amount of time a fundraiser stays at his or her job is just 16 months.
“Oh, well” you say? “No big deal” you say?
Need I remind you fundraising is a relationship-building business? Relationships happen people-to-people, not people-to-institution.
All that work I’m constantly exhorting you to do to personally nurture, reward and develop bonds with your constituents as you support them on their donor journey matters.
You can’t afford the typical nonprofit staff turnover, and you need to do whatever it takes to make working for you a positive experience.
Lose a Fundraiser; Risk Losing a Donor Relationship
Fundraiser turnover results in the ongoing work of reporting back, asking for feedback and offering praise getting abridged or abandoned altogether. Trust me, this is a genuine real world concern. I work with countless nonprofits, and staff turnover leads to downgraded and lapsed gifts. You may think this won’t happen to you, but it will. When a donor doesn’t get the meaning they need, they drift away to other causes offering them a better return on their engagement. Don’t blame the donors; it’s just human nature to want to feel connected to other human beings.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking you can’t afford to keep your fundraiser by providing a better salary and other benefits, such as additional vacation time. Penelope Burk surveyed 1,700 fundraisers and 8,000 nonprofit chief executives, and found it would cost just $46,650 to keep a good fundraiser happy.
The direct and indirect costs of finding a replacement are $127,650. Hmmn… being pennywise and pound-foolish is not what I would call working smart.
Employee retention costs a fraction of employee recruitment, training and on-the-job learning. So seriously consider what you can do to work a lot smarter by treating your employees like the true treasure they are. As noted in my last article, a decent salary matters. I’m all for offering living wages! But many more things than money are motivators.
It’s time for a closer look at how flexibility in the workplace will help you shine.
Retain More Nonprofit Employees by Being Flexible
A recent guest essay in the New York Times, The 9-to-5 Schedule Should Be the Next Pillar of Work to Fall, got me to thinking about more ways to retain nonprofit staff.
Prior to the pandemic, advocating for flexible hours or remote work would mostly fall on deaf ears. But the pandemic forced businesses into offering flexible work schedules. People could suddenly work from home. They could adjust their schedule around their families, their personal care, and even their circadian rhythms. Not everyone found this wonderful, but… many people did. Big time.
So now we have data. 30% of workers around the world surveyed last year said they would consider seeking a new job if their current employer required them to return to the office full time. Oh, dear! Do you really want to add this to the large list of reasons workers are already leaving you right and left – before the investment you’ve made in them has even been justified?
To keep folks on the job, a not insignificant number of people of all ages would find flexibility a meaningful motivator. Millennials (20s and early 30s) are especially resistant to coming back to the office. They don’t want the commute, and they never had time to view coming into the office as the natural order of things. Even in Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, 45% have doubts about going back, and 36% of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, feel that way.
What Constitutes Flexibility in the Workplace?
“Flextime” is an employee handbook buzzword, but what does it translate to in practice?
It’s perhaps a broader concept than you may think. If you absolutely can’t do one thing, try another. Rigidity will never be your friend.
We talk a lot about donor-centricity — enacting a range of strategies to meet folks where they are and unlock their deepest philanthropic impulses and levels of support and loyalty. But we don’t talk near enough about employee-centricity – opening up to a range of approaches that nourish staff and grow them into productive, fulfilled, dependable team members.
A truly flexible workplace would give control to employees to work when and where they’re most productive.
- They would decide, not their employers.
- They would be trusted to know what works best for them, rather than subject to the whims and/or uniformed opinions of their employers.
Ready to offer a flexible work environment? This is what it takes.
1. Employees control where they work.
Despite what some employers may believe, working at the office is by no means guaranteed to yield a more productive worker. As one 33-year-old worker put it in the NYT article: “The office has all these distractions that are removed when you’re working from home.”
Similarly, the assumption working in proximity leads to greater innovation has been debunked. There’s simply no evidence. Dan Spaulding, chief people officer at Zillow, suggests “reimagining the office entirely — as somewhere people go to every so often, to meet or socialize, while daily work is done remotely.”
In fact, one study found “contemporary open offices led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions. People didn’t find it helpful to have so many spontaneous conversations, so they wore headphones and avoided one another.
REASONS EMPLOYEES MAY PREFER FLEXIBLE LOCATIONS
- Live a far-away distance from the office.
- Commute is expensive and/or time-consuming.
- Office has many distractions.
- Technology — like Zoom, Slack and Google Docs — has made idea generation and team collaboration as effective online as on-site.
- They’re not a great fit for an office job, due to shyness, agoraphobia or physical disability.
- When in person, their race, gender, ethnicity or religion requires them to code switch (adjusting style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways to optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities). When offices do not feel safe and inclusive, this creates added levels of stress.
“When everyone has the same small box on the screen, everyone has an equal seat at the table, literally,”
— Barbara Messing, Employee Experience Officer, Roblox
2. Employees control when they work.
This means letting folks work when they’re most productive. Per the NYT article, Southwest Airlines allows pilots to choose between morning and evening flight schedules. A few tech companies, including Automattic and DuckDuckGo, have work-anytime policies that enable employees to travel the world or simply take time in the middle of the day to run weekday errands.
REASONS EMPLOYEES MAY PREFER FLEXIBLE HOURS
- Caregiving responsibilities require their attention during standard work hours.
- Hours on-site are not conducive to work/life balance.
- They work and live in different time zones.
- Their work and biological sleep schedules do not align.
“Early to bed, early to rise” does not make all people – or businesses – wealthy and wise. Many can work more effectively by making their own hours. As a confirmed night owl, I was personally delighted to learn:
“Our bodies also would benefit from more flexibility. Each of us has a personalized rhythm known as a chronotype — an internal timer that governs when we naturally fall asleep and when we are most alert. For more than half of adults, biological bedtime falls after midnight, which means that a typical 9-to-5 work schedule throws many of us out of sync.”
— Emily Laber-Warren. Leader, Health and Science Reporting program, Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, City University of New York.
Not only am I more productive since I left 9 to 5 work (let’s face it, I rarely knocked off that early), I am also healthier. My sleep-deprived, aspirin popping days are gone, I’m generally less stressed, I’m nicer to other people, and my work is higher quality – and even accomplished in fewer hours!
Consider whether your work is really specific hours-dependent. If you’re a teacher in a school, then yes it is. If you’re a fundraiser in a school, maybe not so much. Sure you want to be on site sometimes to see school in action – that’s what makes you able to translate the vision, mission and values underlying your work with true passion – but you don’t have to be there every day from start to closing. That’s probably not ideally productive.
How to Be Flexible
Forget about business as usual. Trying to replicate everything you did on-site, pre-pandemic, during regular hours may not be the best modus operandi in today’s more open environment. For example, it’s time to sunset back-to-back, long, inefficient meetings.
Think less about quantity of hours and more about quality of work.
“The most impressive, most professional person is not the one who needs 80 hours a week to finish the job. It’s the person who can finish it in 30 hours.”
CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING OPTIONS:
- Slash meetings. (e.g., 30-minute meetings instead of an hour; One-to-one meetings instead of a group; No-meeting days so folks know they can focus on a project during that time; Explicit agendas for every meeting; if you don’t have one, don’t meet).
- Improve meeting inclusivity, productivity and attendance (e.g., Pick meeting time periods that accommodate people on different schedules and in different locations, facilitating scheduling time for focused work, child care and other needs; Call on everyone in virtual meetings so no one feels peripheral).
- Reserve time for collaborative and independent work, rather than expecting staff to be “on call” at all hours. Set limited “core hours” when all must be available; beyond that trust employees to set their own, best schedules.
- Designate time for work and non-work. Consider social video meetings, like logging on to have lunch and chat, as an option for those who want to connect with colleagues. For many, these activities can be a lot more accessible, and comfortable, than after-work drinks or bowling outings.
With when flexibility, employees can strategically devote their most energetic hours to times they’re most productive. Typically that’s mornings for early risers and afternoons or evenings for night owls. If you’re asking folks to give their most focused attention to tasks during hours they feel sleep-derived, that’s simply not smart.
With where flexibility, employees can save the costs and time of commuting. Those minutes and hours can be used for productive work. And work-at-home employees can also prepare lunch for an infirm spouse, parent or grandparent or attend their children’s school events. Those with a chronic illness can absent themselves for an hour or two to manage a flare-up without having to take a sick day.
Forcing employees into rigid standardized routines doesn’t take into account individual needs and differences. What works swell for Employee A may not work at all for Employee B. Do you really want to risk losing some of your best potential workers simply because you insist on forcing a square peg into a round hole?
People generally want to connect and collaborate, so facilitate that happening. But understand they may not want to do that five days a week, from the hours of 9 to 5, in one particular location. And you may not need them to. In fact, if you want to retain employees over time, you may not want them to.
Want to Reevaluate Your Position?
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