Even the most passionate and dedicated not-for-profit workers can lose their mojo.
Whether it’s due to funding uncertainty, workplace challenges or personal burn out, it’s critical that you keep an eye out for warning signs of staff losing interest in their work. This will increase your ability to keep your team happy and productive, and well as minimising staff turnover.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are the Founders of Barefoot Wine, the world’s #1 wine brand.
While from a very different world to the Australian NFP sector, their recently released book, “The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People”, contains some interesting insights into the more subtle signs that your staff may be losing their passion for the work they’re doing – and tips on how you can reignite this.
So here are five signs that your staff might be disengaging – and five solutions – that we reckon are just as relevant and important for NFP organisations:
1. Problem: They blame others when things go wrong
When something goes wrong in your organisation, rather than taking responsibility or looking for a solution, staff who are lacking passion for their work or organisation may be quick to blame someone else instead. This may be because they’ve seen the consequences of others making mistakes in the past and are worried about what it might mean for them. For example, they may be fearful of losing their job if they own up to a mistake or oversight.
The solution: Letting staff know it’s OK to make mistakes can be really good for your organisation. Houlihan and Harvey even suggest to celebrate, not punish, staff that get it wrong. Think about it like this: often when a staff member makes a mistake, it alerts you to a way that things can go wrong in your program that you mightn’t have known before. Now you can tweak your processes or work out how to stop it from happening again.
2. Problem: Access to information is treated as power
Organisations often keep information from certain staff. This can create an imbalance of power in the office where tid-bits from strategic plans or the latest news on funding become precious commodities. This can be damaging to workplace culture and can lead to staff becoming disillusioned or disengaged.
The solution: Whilst there are unique considerations in every organisation, Houlihan and Harvey recommend having – as much as possible – a policy of openness and transparency, which acts to take the power out of information. This is particularly important if your organisation is going through a period of uncertainty – perhaps during funding cuts or restructures. Making sure that all staff have access to as much information as possible in a timely manner shows that you value them, and will also help to calm anxiety and reduce the chances that staff will seek work elsewhere.
3. Problem: Less face time, more email
Your staff seem to be avoiding face-to-face meetings or even phone calls and instead opting for emails. This could be a sign that staff may have stopped putting in the extra effort to communicate well with their team members and other stakeholders.
The solution: Houlihan and Harvey acknowledge that sometimes the use of electronic communications can simply be an indicator of a generational difference, or of a very high workload. However, good face-to-face meetings can be more energising and empowering by letting people connect – and they can often save time by replacing back-and-forth emails with a quick chat. So if you feel that your organisation could have more of an impact or operate better with face-to-face meetings, try to set an example by suggesting in-person meetings when you can, and encouraging others to do the same.
4. Problem: It’s everyone for themselves
Staff who have lost interest in their work probably won’t go out of their way to help a colleague or provide advice to a new recruit.
The solution: A more formal approach that matches, longer-serving staff with new recruits could help to reignite the passion of people who have been around for a long time – for example, through a mentoring program.
While this takes time and resources to set up – and will need to be managed well to ensure any feelings of disengagement aren’t passed on to a new staff member – by entrusting your existing staff with this relationship you’re showing that you value their commitment and inside knowledge. You might even be surprised at the reaction of existing staff when they see the difference they’re able to make to new team members.
5. Problem: The work isn’t getting done
People are missing deadlines and work just isn’t getting done. But, before you start thinking about confronting a staff member, take a step back and think about what might be contributing to it. Houlihan and Harvey say that things like micromanagement can make it difficult for staff to get their work done. Could this be happening in your organisation?
The solution: Take a step back and analyse the way that your managers are working. Perhaps some of them have trouble delegating tasks, or are overly cautious and run every piece of work through your legal department.
Or perhaps there are processes or levels of bureaucracy that you could work to remove so that your people feel more empowered.
Giving staff responsibility to make decisions – and yes, mistakes too – will give them a sense of value and ownership in your organisation and can reignite their passion for the work.
Have you experienced staff losing interest in the past? Was there anything you were able to do to reignite their passion? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.