It might feel like we’re on the other side of the pandemic, but companies continue to deal with one of its side effects: the “Great Resignation.” It’s a phrase coined to describe the trend of millions of people leaving their jobs, which began in 2021 and continues.
And the nonprofit world is no exception to this trend.
The phrase, the Great Resignation, originated with Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University. Klotz said while many experts were optimistic that a vaccine roll
–out in late 2020 would soothe the economy and bring normalcy back to American lives, he was doubtful. It was around this time he predicted a wave of resignations based on four trends he was seeing:
Soon after his prediction, workers began quitting en masse, and journalists and business leaders widely adopted his phrase to describe the shocking statistics that surfaced. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in November 2021 alone, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs, bringing the yearlong total to 68.7 million.
Fast forward to mid-2022, this rate hasn’t changed much. According to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs in June 2022.
Let’s look at how this has impacted the nonprofit space.
Nonprofits across the country have reported significant challenges in retaining staff and filling vacancies since the second half of 2021. To get a clearer picture of how the broader trend has impacted the industry, the National Council of Nonprofits surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. nonprofits.
Of those surveyed, 60% of respondents said they saw a job vacancy rate of 10% to 29%. Sixteen percent of respondents reported a job vacancy rate of more than 30%.
Many people go into social service and nonprofit work because it’s their passion—they may even see it as a calling. So why are nonprofit workers leaving what so many consider to be their life’s work?
Several nonprofits said it has to do with the nature of their work. They reported that the strain of operating 24/7 every day of the year is leading to burnout.
When it comes to filling newly opened roles, the council survey showed that 80% of nonprofits identified salary as a limiting factor. Other factors included childcare and vaccination policies.
The New York Times published an article about the social sector’s inability to retain and hire talented staff, reporting that many nonprofits are losing people to for-profit companies that can pay better wages.
The stakes are particularly high for the nonprofit world when it comes to the Great Resignation. The National Council of Nonprofit’s report said the staffing shortages have resulted in problems such as growing waiting lists to receive services, needing to turn people away or not accept new participants, and having to limit services.
As a nonprofit leader, you try your best to minimize the effect of external forces on your ability to deliver critical services to your community. But, knowing that 44% of adults are currently actively looking for work, how can you attract candidates who will continue to deliver your important programs? And how can you keep your current nonprofit employees from leaving? The answer may lie in your nonprofit’s culture.
Evan Feinberg, the executive director of anti-poverty nonprofit Stand Together Foundation, says, “pay isn’t the only factor, or even the decisive factor, in why people choose to work in the social sector.”
He noted in a Forbes op-ed that the American Workforce Index shows that employees seek a lot more than pay. They want “a workplace that trusts them, recognizes their unique talents, respects their insights and gives them the autonomy to make a difference through their work.”
Feinberg goes on to say that nonprofits are way behind in creating environments that do these things for their employees. He suggests that the most effective nonprofits demonstrate that they believe in their workers by empowering their teams to come up with solutions to their problems.
Open the door to experimentation. Don’t impose top-down decisions or revert to the “this is how we do things” approach to management, Feinberg says.
He also advises that you shouldn’t box your employees into a role they don’t want or that isn’t reflective of their skills.
Erin Mulligan Nelson—the CEO of Bonterra, Social Solutions’ parent company—told Nonprofit Pro earlier this year that for nonprofits “to keep teams motivated and inspired, the workplace must be an environment where they feel supported, accepted, and understood.”
And although salary isn’t the sole factor in workplace happiness, you should pay them what they deserve. Don’t default to the seniority-based structure of pay. When people feel like they’re being rewarded for their work, they are incentivized to do more in the future.
To reduce burnout, we also advise that nonprofit leaders embrace effective technology that takes some of the burden off their staff and improves the employee experience. Social Solutions’ case management software can do just that by helping with intake forms, scheduling, workflows, and reports. Schedule a demo today to learn more.
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