The 2019 people and culture trends NFP leaders can’t ignore

By Maddie McMaster, General Manager at

A new year – and hopefully a summer break – provides a great opportunity to reflect on the year that has been, as well as the year to come.

Looking ahead, the team sees some evolving priorities for people and culture leaders at Australian Not-for-Profit organisations. Here’s a look at the top 5 trends we believe should gain your attention in 2019 as well as some tips to address them.

1. Hiring based on attitude and values

There’s been a lot of talk in recent times about hiring for attitude and then providing training where it’s needed. That’s easier said than done for NFPs with limited budgets to train inexperienced staff.

But for organisations focused on working for a better world, attracting people who are aligned with your values and committed to your purpose will lead to having a greater impact.

According to the global Workforce Purpose Index, people who primarily define the role of work in their lives as a source of personal fulfilment and way to help others are 47% more likely to promote their organisation and 64% more likely to experience fulfilment at work.

With a youth unemployment rate hovering at about 12.5% (double the average) and only 70% of tertiary qualified candidates able to quickly find full-time work, there’s a solid argument for NFPs to hire based on values and attitude rather than purely on skills or experience. It’s all about striking the right balance.

Where to start?

First of all, you need to be clearly communicating why your organisation exists in your job ads and be transparent about your values to encourage the right candidates to apply.

Our 2018 jobseeker survey found that the most important factor for purpose-oriented candidates is an employer has a positive social or environmental impact. As an NFP, articulating your purpose is probably pretty easy — but because it’s so obvious, it can often be forgotten – or assumed – in job ads, and you simply need to create space for it.

Authentically communicating culture and values can be a bit trickier. A good test can be to ask current employees to read your position description and see if reflects their experience.

You should also balance competency or behavioural interview questions with broader questions around attitude.

If your interview questions typically focus on competencies or experience, then think about the attitudes and behaviours of your ideal candidate and sprinkle through questions that relate to these.

For instance, if you’re hiring a fundraiser and it’s important that they are willing to take risks and learn from them, ask them about the last time they had to do something completely new, and what they learned.

Since it’s about attitude, their examples don’t have to be work-related, and this means even more candidates could be considered for the role—even recent graduates.

2. Embracing personalised flexibility

There’s no doubt that the “gig economy” is on the rise. And while most people aren’t about to quit their 9-5 jobs in favour of contract work, flexibility is becoming more important to attracting and retaining top talent in today’s job market.

The Fair Work Commission’s new rules around flexible work have created a legal obligation to genuinely try to accommodate requests for flexibility. Since December 2018, permanent employees with a disability, caring responsibilities, aged over 55 or experiencing domestic violence can request a flexible working arrangement and employers must give specific reasons if an agreement can’t be reached. This is an important evolution from employers being able to simply refuse requests based on ‘reasonable business grounds’.

The important thing to remember is that flexibility is not one-size-fits-all. For some, it might be working adjusted hours so they can drop and pick up their kids from school. For others, it could be only working on specific days or having the choice to work from home.

Beyond our legal obligations and the obvious benefits of improved morale, tenure and workforce diversity, embracing flexibility can also improve outcomes for your organisation. For instance, Research advisors Gartner found that “supporting what employees value, not just what they need, increases employee performance by 20%”.

Where to start?

Don’t assume what employees want; instead, ask them, both during the recruitment process and once they are employed. Listen to understand what they value and think creatively about whether you can meet at least some of their needs.

At the same time, it’s important to set clear expectations that flexibility also needs to work for the organisation and your stakeholders. For instance, work from home arrangements might be impossible for a disability support worker, but more flexible hours might be easy to schedule.

A trial period can be a great way to introduce and test out flexibility in your organisation. Leaders can have concerns about flexible work — from employee productivity to communication and setting precedents for other staff. A period of experimentation for a few months, with open communication between the employee, manager and teammates, can be a great way to overcome internal skepticism and determine if a personalised approach to flexibility can work.

3. Building a more diverse and inclusive culture

Diversity continued to make headlines in 2018, from the tiny number women in the Coalition Government to the Australian Human Rights Commission revealing a lack of diversity in top jobs and the World Economic Forum declaring a strong imperative to close the gender pay gap.

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce are widely acknowledged. As the Diversity Council of Australia’s 2018 Inclusion@Work Index highlights, employees in inclusive teams are 10X more likely to be highly effective and 19X more likely to be very satisfied with their job.

Diversity can also lead to better outcomes for consumers. As Trent Innes, MD of Xero Australia, and Manita Ray, CEO of ygap, noted at the 2018 Not-for-Profit People Conference, a diverse internal team is key to effectively serving a diverse community.

The good news is that the NFP sector’s focus on social justice and social equity positions it well to attract diverse candidates — but we have to continue to lead the way.

Where to start?

If you already have policies for diversity and inclusion in your workplace, why not start talking about them in your job ads? It’s important to be loud and proud about your diversity initiatives to attract and retain diverse talent.

Language and key selection criteria in job ads is also important. For instance, words like “energetic” might exclude some people, such as older candidates or people with a disability.

Similarly, as women are much more likely to self-select out of a job if they don’t meet all of the key selection criteria, it’s important to refine your “essential” skills and experience list to only include things that are absolutely critical for the role.

Your interviewers can also limit your ability to hire diverse candidates. Everyone has unconscious biases – for example, people tend to relate best to “people like them”, so if you don’t have diversity in your interview panel, then you’re likely to hire homogenous candidates.

Make sure you have at least a few different perspectives in your interview process to minimise unconscious biases like this.

4. Promoting wellbeing in your team and organisation

It was promising to see health and wellbeing issues become more prominent in 2018. While there’s still a long way to go, policies like legislated domestic violence leave and the Victorian Government’s vow to hold a royal commission into mental health are helping to bring these issues out of the shadows.

With one in five Australians between 16-85 estimated to experience mental illness any year, chances are this is affecting your workplace and something we can all positively influence as employers.

According to the Wellbeing Lab 2018 workplace survey, people who are “thriving” — that is, able to consistently maintain a high level of wellbeing — are 6X more likely to feel engaged, 125% less likely to burn out and 32% less likely to turnover. However, only 19% of Australian workers are “consistently thriving” now.

Where to start?

While many workplaces now use workplace health programs to get staff and volunteers active, more important perhaps is creating a culture that promotes everyday wellbeing.

The Wellbeing Lab’s report suggests that environments that enable people to fulfil basic needs of autonomy, growth, human connection and safety have the biggest impact on people being able to thrive.

This should be positive news for NFPs who might not have budget or resources to offer extensive health and wellbeing programs. However, it’s important that your culture is able to fulfil these basic psychological needs.

If you’re not sure whether your culture fulfils these needs, consider gathering some internal feedback from employees from different areas of the organisation and identify ways to build these into your culture.

In some cases, it might mean an in-depth process to redefine your culture and gain buy-in from all levels of the organisation. In other cases, it might be identifying a few quick wins.

5. Using more tech

NFPs in Australia span the gamut when it comes to tech use — while some are investing in innovation labs and organisation-wide IT solutions, others are just using Excel spreadsheets and calendars to keep their head above water.

And while Artificial Intelligence may not be on the cards for many of us in 2019, but there are an increasing number of accessible tools on the market that can help to improve recruitment, management or team collaboration.

With increasingly flexible workplaces, improved communication and creating a sense of connection is key – especially for remote, dispersed or job-sharing teams. According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report, 90% of Australian businesses ranked a connected workplace as a top priority.

Not all NFPs can afford to invest in comprehensive technology solutions, but there’s an increasing number of accessible (sometimes even free!) software out there can can get you a long way there. For instance, free online collaboration / project management tools like Slack, Trello or Asana, can help teams to collaborate more effectively online.

Technology can also help to free up leaders or HR teams to spend less time on admin and more time on coaching, developing and supporting people.

Where to start?

A good first step can be to review your current processes and communication channels to identify where online tools could help — and then investigate (perhaps through a simple Google search) the plethora of accessible online productivity and HR tools out there.

If your IT person/department is skeptical, suggest a pilot with just a few people as a first step. Having a few “super users” involved in testing and decision-making could also enable you to drive future adoption. While the advantages might seem obvious, tech changes are likely to be met with some resistance, particularly among less tech-savvy employees. Having a few internal advocates should help to build credibility as well as spread the training load.

No matter where your organisation is at on the spectrum of tech use, a little bit of investment this year exploring any opportunities to streamline processes or build collaboration through technology is likely to have a significant benefits.

Are there people and culture trends you’re seeing for for NFPS in 2019 that aren’t listed above? We’d love to hear about them – please share them in the comments below.

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