Employee Retention: Keep Them if You’ve Got Them

In April, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 3.9%, its lowest point since December 2000. That’s great for the economy — but not so great for organizations struggling to remain fully staffed. Unfortunately, many nonprofits are in this position. They can’t afford to pay employees as much as their for-profit counterparts and, thus, have a harder time recruiting and retaining people when the labor market’s tight.

Nonprofits aren’t powerless, though. If you currently have good people on the payroll, there are steps you can take to keep them. Consider these low-cost retention tools:

Work perks. Raises and robust benefits are the traditional routes to retaining employees, but there are other ways you can let employees know you value them. For example, research has found that a majority of workers crave greater control over when and where they work — whether that means a flexible or part-time schedule, the option to telecommute or more vacation time. Unlike health insurance and retirement savings benefits, these work perks tend to be relatively cheap and may (in the case of telecommuting) save your organization money.

Career development. All the money in the world won’t keep an ambitious employee in a dead- end job. Learn what your nonprofit’s employees hope to get out of their positions (besides money) and where they’d like to be in five, 10 or 20 years. Then provide them with a clear career path that rewards their accomplishments with greater responsibility and authority. Also make sure they have opportunities to learn new skills. If your budget allows it, you might reimburse staffers for taking job-related classes or attending professional seminars.

Acknowledgment and thanks. Many staffers simply want their work to be recognized. Praise good work at staff meetings and publicize achievements on your website or in your nonprofit’s newsletter. And the next time an employee does something special, write a “thank you” note. Another gesture that’s likely to be appreciated: Reward the staffer with an afternoon off or even an extra personal day.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a positive workplace. Employees who like coming to work and enjoy the company of their co-workers, supervisors and clients are much less likely to look for a new job. Make sure everyone complies with antiharassment and antidiscrimination laws as well as your own “house rules” governing conduct. If you receive complaints from workers about ill treatment, take them seriously and investigate. Failure to do so could result in the loss of a staffer — or worse.

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