Operation Happiness: Non-Profit Employees

How to keep your non-profit’s employees happy with all the changes and belt-tightening that seems to be across the board is a challenge. Harvard Business School reported that job satisfaction nationwide is at a 23-year low and that’s not just with non-profits. Chronicle Survey says that 40% of workers characterized themselves as dissatisfied with their jobs. That means, if you have 10-20 people with your organization, 4-8 of them are probably unhappy.

This dissatisfaction can be attributed to a number of things, though. The Chronicle of Philanthropy hosted an online discussion recently with Jan Masaoka, the Chief Executive of the California Association of Nonprofits and, previously, with Blue Avocado, and Trish Tchume, the National Director of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. They took questions from readers and also posed some of their own, answering them with their many years of experience.

The first question was “What is employees’ #1 dissatisfaction?” The responses centered mostly around transparency of procedure. It would depend on who was being asked, but a large complaint is not necessarily that employees want to be in on the decision-making process, but that they are unclear about what the process is. In non-profits and many other agencies and organizations, there are formal and informal hierarchies. Decisions are often made through the unofficial hierarchies and employees need clarity on how the organization is structured in this area as much as the formal processes which would be written in the handbook. Jan stated, “Too many non-profits (and for-profits) emit messages like ‘we do everything as a team’ that people read as indications that the non-profit is a democracy. It’s important to be able to say, ‘This is a decision that you will have input on, but the decision will be made by X.'” According to Daniel Pink, people are motivated by three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Give your people these things and they will thrive.

Another topic brought up was that of “bailing” by employees, or “organization-hopping.” People who find themselves dissatisfied with their current position or place of employment may “bail” on that organization if they are confident they can get another job at the same pay or see themselves as marketable. This brings up another point: How long does a person need to stay at position/organization in order to be seen as a dependable/loyal person? There is a statistic that leaders of younger generations have about 8-10 transitions over the course of their career as opposed to far fewer in previous generations. However, this can be misleading because while younger leaders may change organizations, they are often staying within the same cause.

No turnover can equal stale ideas. Some organizations and positions expect a certain amount of turnover in staff. Some are meant to turn over every year or two. For example, you would not want a 35% turnover in management positions, but having a high rate of turnover for youth workers on a playground is expected and acceptable. Employers should be seeking ways to build into their employees not only for their current job, but also for any jobs they may have in the future.

One other question was on effective methods in getting good problem-solving input from staff. Jan and Trish suggest that good problem-solving cannot happen when there is widespread distrust. But if there is a general attitude of “we can work things out,” then having teams prioritizes their own work is the best way to start. Check out an online resource: Structuring Leadership: Alternative Models for Distributing Power and Decision-Making.

To read the full discussion, visit the website.

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