4 things every not-for-profit should know about workplace culture

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Back in 2010 the Productivity Commission identified key workforce issues currently facing Not-For-Profit organisations. These included:

  • Difficulties attracting and retaining employees due to low wages
  • High levels of employee turnover within the sector
  • A lack of career paths and training opportunities.

The commission also determined that NFPs are attracting more employees than in 2000, with around 890,000 workers employed in 2006-07, growing from 604,000 in 1999-00 (ABS 2002, 2009c). This includes approximately 41% full-time, 34% part-time and 24% casual employees.

Nevertheless, NFPs still report difficulties in attracting and retaining suitably talented staff, mainly due to restricted resources and consequently low wages.

For this reason, NFPs that take the time to work on, and communicate, their unique workplace culture effectively to potential candidates and existing employees can go some way to improving their ability to attract and retain staff.

Culture isn’t all about the money

Many workers are drawn to NFPs because they want to do something meaningful for the community – and they’re willing to accept a lower wage to achieve this end.

Often corporate workers move into the NFP sector exhausted by the 7am-7pm rat race.  They want to recapture a sense of idealism and social responsibility that chasing the corporate dollar has extinguished.

NFPs can offer a rewarding work experience and flexible work arrangements as well as an ethos to which an employee can fully commit.

This can be heady stuff for an idealistic new NFP worker. They often arrive eager to pour their enthusiasm into making a difference.  But this energy can quickly dissipate if their chosen NFP lacks a strong, supportive and happy workplace culture.

And this is when an NFP can lose a talented employee.  After all, a conflicting or meaningless workplace culture is why they left the corporate sector in the first place.  And if the situation is no different in the NFP sector, they’ll soon be asking themselves why they’re accepting a lesser pay packet for their expertise.

A great NFP work culture takes . . . work

There are a number of key ways to help ensure your workplace culture attracts and keeps talented staff:

1) Communicating your mission clearly and convincingly is the first step.

It begins with successfully marketing the benefits of working in the NFP sector. Setting the ethical tone of your workplace must start with the job description through to your website and organisational literature.  Applicants keen to make a difference will begin researching your organisation to check that it has the right cultural fit from the moment they see the job advert.

2) Support your team.

Once you have successfully employed an applicant, they need to be supported by your organisation to maintain their enthusiasm for the challenging work.  NFP workers are required to deal with more complex and diverse client needs. Burn out is all too common – and is more likely if a workplace is beset by internal strife.

3) Set goals and acknowledge great work.

Clearly set goals are crucial to feeling satisfied with your working life.  Knowing you’ve successfully completed a task and receiving acknowledgement for your efforts is a small, cost effective way of someone feel appreciated.

4) Make room for dreams.

Encourage idealistic employees to think beyond the box and provide a forum for them to share their ideas for improving the workplace culture or your services.  People are your most important resource – tap their expertise to continually improve your service and let them know you value their input.

Happy workplaces also mean less turnover

In fact, creating a happy workplace culture has a tangible effect on workplace productivity.  According to US workplace consultants Great Place to Work:

“… committed and engaged employees who trust their management perform 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave an organization.”

This results in:

  • Easier employee and management recruitment
  • Better quality job applicants
  • Decreased training costs.

Great Place to Work analysts also indicate the organisations on their 100 Best Company List consistently have literally half the voluntary turnover rates of their competitors.

This means the best workplaces don’t just focus on workers’ basic economic and security needs but on creating meaningful work and supportive social networks – and this is something that Not For Profits are uniquely placed to do.

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