Inspired by the many couples who got engaged this Valentine’s Day, we thought we would highlight another engagement that ranks high in importance for our collective happiness: employee engagement. The modern workforce has shifted power to employees who can apply for new jobs with a simple click. With attrition costing nonprofits and social entrepreneurs at least 20 percent of each employee’s salary in lost productivity, morale and knowledge, keeping our teams energized and invested in our work benefits the social sector and our clients.

Sticking with our Valentine’s theme, we wanted to have a little fun to kick-start your brainstorming session on how to engage employees at the highest level. In our experience, one of the biggest drivers of recruitment to the social sector is passion for the work, but the biggest driver of retention is enjoyment. Inspired by best practices from Deloitte University Press’ Becoming Irresistible: A New Model for Employee Engagement, we have included five ways to boost your social sector organization’s engagement and retention.

  1. Meaningful work – To keep your team engaged, employees want to know what they do makes a difference to your clients and communities. This can be easier for employees on the frontlines, but harder for those in administrative areas. To bridge this divide and ensure everyone feels they are on the same team, consider annual job shadowing or volunteer rotations. Employees also want to be empowered to decide how they will reach goals. It is essential for employees to be included in the strategic planning process. This way, they can provide on-the-ground intelligence that will not only inform the plan, but also ensure that action plans and dashboards are realistic and meaningful.
  2. Hands-on management – Hands-on management does not mean micromanaging your team’s every move; it simply means that managers are fully invested in supporting and coaching employees on their paths to achieving their performance goals. It requires providing regular feedback (vs. annual feedback) and building jobs around employees’ strengths. To accomplish this, consider having a competency assessment for each role. When an employee gets a position, have them fill it out and compare their answers to yours – it will spur conversations about expectations and needs. Then, develop a robust professional development plan, including trainings and mentorship, to bolster their strengths and assist with challenges. Revisit this assessment regularly to show progress and add new areas of growth.
  3. Positive work environment – People want flexibility to work individually or in teams as their work demands. They also want to be authentic at work and be recognized by (and give recognition to) their superiors and peers for a job well done. Employees differ in the type of recognition they need to feel fulfilled. If you want a fun activity at a retreat or staff meeting, have employees take the online Five Love Languages quiz to find out which “love language” makes the biggest difference to them. Then, use this information to tailor your recognition efforts to their  preference.
  4. Growth opportunities – Employees, particularly those under 35, want jobs that push them to grow and acquire new skills. This does not necessarily mean they want a promotion every year. Younger employees desire formal and informal professional development, opportunities to try something new and the chance to grow once they’ve mastered certain skills. If your budget is limited, consider hosting “lunch and learns” where employees lead trainings in areas of expertise or book clubs where you discuss relevant professional books or books connected to collective organizational needs. Our favorites for clients are Five Choices and Speed of Trust.
  5. Trust in leadership – Luckily for the social sector, people want to work at organizations with a purpose, but they also want leaders who are transparent and invest in their development. In the social sector, because employees lead with their heart, decisions are often more personal, so trust in leadership is essential. To that end, leadership must openly share things like when mistakes occur and how decisions are made. To gauge how you are doing in this area, we recommend an annual survey of employee satisfaction. We suggest using simple quantitative and qualitative questions to get to the heart of this issue and produce measurable results that can be tracked annually. Then, as with every survey, employers need to share the results, celebrate achievements, and take steps to improve where needed.
All of this effort really works! Organizations with a highly engaged workforce have been shown to be 30 percent more innovative and 200 percent more effective than ones without an engaged workforce. We need high-functioning teams in the social sector to produce excellence for the communities we serve. To make this even more fun, we invite you to spread the love by sending us your employee engagement ideas for the benefit of our readers! The best idea will win a $50 gift card for a staff pizza party. We may even cover all the great ideas in a future blog.

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