The Staff Retention Toolbox

For several years now myself and my associate have been struggling to help non-profit organizations find a solution to the high staff turnover rates, especially at the entry level. Our quest began with the assumption that the reason for entry level turnover has to do with little supervision or poor supervision. Many supervisors were promoted from within; a good thing really. But often they were not given the assistance they needed in terms of making the adjustment to what was a very different job from the entry level position they had; not just more money but qualitatively and quantitatively different. So we developed a curriculum to help supervisors understand their responsibilities. We worked with 25 groups of supervisors, usually over a period of 6-8 months. We had great experiences and our curriculum developed and improved every time we went through it. Little by little however, we began to discover that supervisory performance was not the only cause of the turnover problem. We began to hear about a disconnect between the organization’s staff recruitment work and the staffing needs that existed at the program level. “They send us people who really don’t want to work,” was a common complaint of program supervisors. Recruiters claimed that regardless of how hard they worked, new employees didn’t last longer than six months. We’d hear stories about new staff who on their first day of work went to lunch and never returned. No doubt you’ve heard stories like that too.

We were encouraged to learn that some non-profits were really trying to reduce turnover. They were trying to do a better job of making hire decisions and trying to support staff in new and exciting ways. But we also heard about agencies where turnover was seen as just a cost of doing business. Some even looked rather kindly at turnover; they never had to pay out those second year pay increases. Still others, in a sluggish economy with unemployment hovering at 10% saw their turnover falling and assumed that because people were staying longer, that they were in fact happier and more loyal. In moments of candor, everyone felt that turnover was not a good thing because the clients didn’t like it, more critical incidents occurred and no one liked to pay out that extra overtime that becomes necessary when staffing is short or below required minimums.

So our conclusion is that reducing turnover involves a very comprehensive approach; every corner of the organization will have input and be impacted. We have developed a “Staff Retention Toolbox” which has a collection of resources that have helped to reduce turnover in many other settings and the evidence is growing that it will help non-profits equally well. What’s in the Toolbox? No magic tricks; many tools your staff could develop and implement on their own if they had the time. We have seen too many situations however where management staff are wearing many hats and they barely have time to keep the status quo operating more or less smoothly, let alone research, design and implement a new system of doing things. So, it should not surprise you that using the Toolbox may necessitate the use of outside consultants and trainers, but that is a decision that only you can make. Here is the content of the Staff Retention Toolbox:

1. Review your hiring process; look for redundancy and inefficiency.

2. Analyze your agency culture; who is successful there and what are their characteristics

3. Look at job expectations for entry level staff especially; what are the desired outcomes of their work.

4. Analyze the cost of turnover at your organization; establish a benchmark and a cost reduction target

5. Use Performance Based Interviewing as part of the staff selection process and teach the technique to everyone who interviews staff.

6. Select a personality inventory to give to qualified candidates for job openings. After careful research we feel that the Hogan Personality Inventory reports on personality traits that match those of successful direct care workers.

7. Develop a program of on-boarding. Roll out the red carpet for new staff and go out of your way to make sure they feel welcome and supported.

8. Teach your supervisors to improve their people skills and their problem solving ability. Now that you have selected and hired these well-qualified staff, make sure their supervisors will help them be successful.



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