If you have reviewed the March, 2009 issue of Fortune magazine, you’ve already had a chance to review their list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Here is the by-industry breakout as identified by the magazine:
Industry Area Number of Employers Represented
Pharmaceuticals and Health 16
Insurance and Financial Services 12
Legal and Administrative Services 11
Engineering and Construction 6
Entertainment and Recreation 4
HR Consulting 3
Shipping and Storage 2
Real Estate 1
Temporary Services 1
Child Care 1
Higher Education 1
There is at least one non-profit on the list (government research firm) and a large number of hospitals and health care networks. There is one social service provider (a national chain of for-profit child care centers). But the striking reality is that the major social service organizations are missing. No Catholic Social Services, or Lutheran Social Services. No United Way, March of Dimes, Heart Association. No Res-Care or Mentor. No REM, ViaQuest or Kids Peace. No Covenant House, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Volunteers of America. Big surprise, only one Higher Education representative.
So, what is this about? If anyone would know how to develop employee loyalty, one would think that those in the business of helping people would be exceptionally skilled. They should be an employer of choice. In almost 45 years of work with social service organizations, I have seen some of the reasons why employers in the social services lag behind their counterparts in the traditional business community in taking care of employees. Here are three of those reasons:
1. Money is tight. Even more to the point is the fact that many of these so-called private agencies are at least quasi-government operated. Most get more than 90% of their dollars from government contracts. As such, how they spend their money is closely regulated. This limits creativity in how compensation and benefits can be administered.
2. Happy employees are not a priority. The guiding philosophy is that the needs of the people being served come first. The notion that the company does a better job of customer service if employees are happy and engaged, is foreign to the culture of most social service organizations.
3. Poor supervision. As in many companies, supervisory staff are promoted from
within but receive little help in making the adjustment from line worker to supervisor. In this context, some new supervisors display exceptional people skills and unfortunately many do not.
How long will it be before a non-profit social service provider breaks through and is identified as an employer of choice? What will that organization look like? What will they be known for? What will be their performance on management issues like staff turnover?
Becoming an employer of choice does not require a lot of money. In some cases it is mostly an attitude shift. For example:
– Turnover is not a fixed cost of doing business; it can be reduced if organizations become more intentional about doing so.
– Stop blaming low salaries. As long as salaries are within 80% of the regional market, money is not the issue. Most studies indicate that a salary increase only translates into happier employees for about two weeks.
– Teach, teach, teach. Telling people “how to do it” once is not enough. Employees have to be convinced that the employer is committed to their success. Supervision is not about catching people doing something wrong; it’s about teaching the correct way to do things and making sure that the employee is learning.
– Make work-life balance a company value. Non-profits love committed people. So much that they will allow employees to burn themselves out.. Stop doing that! Insist that employees take care of themselves and make it possible for them to do so.
– Listen to employees. Leadership needs their perspective. Take their suggestions seriously and convince them that they have been heard.
While most non-profits may never make a Fortune list, I believe they can become known in their regions as excellent places to work, and I challenge them to do so. This will be more than a public relations coup. The performance of their organization, both fiscally and programmatically will improve dramatically, starting with sharp reductions in turnover-related expenses. So who will be first…first to say that the people they are helping are being served by employees who are fully engaged in the mission of the organization and committed to doing a better job today than they did yesterday. The change will amaze even the most skeptical administrator.