Make Yours a Truly Great Workplace

By Richard Male, Professor for Regis University's Master of Nonprofit Management degree program and founder of Richard Male Associates.

The Denver Post recently announced the polling and research culminating in its third annual “Top Workplaces,” honoring a wide range of employers, listing various strategies that our region’s most preferred employers use to retain and reward their teams, and also giving us a taste of the comments employees made in surveys.

Our Rich TIPS have long focused on nurturing leadership by example and honoring the critical ingredient of your people to your success. The results from the Post’s annual workplace study aren’t earth-shattering but serve as an excellent reminder that we can all do more to continuously improve organizational climate and culture.

As the Post noted, it’s easy to get distracted by the perks of a workplace–onsite fitness classes, generous vacation time, cool chairs, stocked kitchens, game lounges, and a dog under every desk. This is what we’ve always thought of as the “free bagels” pitfall: oh, sure, such gestures are visible and great, and they might help attract new hires who might be on the fence about accepting your offer, but they don’t necessarily speak to the essence of your culture.

The Post’s survey firm, Workplace Dynamics, used the following statements to rate the motivation and satisfaction levels of workers in our metro area versus current nationwide data. You might consider these statements in a survey of your own, or even in conversations with colleagues. We adjusted the wording to better reflect the nonprofit sector, but of course the core issues are the same.

  1. I have a meaningful, fulfilling job.
  2. My role has met or exceeded my expectations.
  3. New ideas are encouraged here.
  4. I am confident about my future with this organization.
  5. My efforts are genuinely appreciated.
  6. This organization operates on strong, ethical values.
  7. I am offered formal training that furthers my career.
  8. We executive projects efficiently and well.
  9. I have the flexibility to balance my work and personal life.
  10. I am confident in the leader(s) of this organization.
  11. My manager helps me learn and grow.
  12. My manager cares about my concerns.
  13. My manager makes it easier for me to do my job well.
  14. I experience little frustration in the workplace.
  15. The pay is fair for the work done.
  16. The benefits package is comparable to others in our industry.
  17. I feel well informed and aware of important decisions.
  18. This organization is going in the right direction.

Keep in mind that a tempting pitfall of considering employee satisfaction against a list used to measure attitudes in the private sector is the “Oh, but we’re different” excuse–that nonprofits are driven by a mission and not by dollars and shouldn’t be judged in the same way as a business.

You can continue to rationalize that factors such as compensation and benefits shouldn’t matter to people to choose to work in our sector, and thus your organization’s deficits in these areas are somehow OK . . . par for the course. If we are ever going to be taken seriously as effective, essential and fund-worthy organizations, however, we have to leave such thinking behind.

Providing avenues for professional development, giving people the tools they need, listening and coaching, and motivation “beyond the mission” are key to your long-range success. We may not be large corporate entities with big HR budgets, but employee satisfaction and motivation matters. Ignore such elements of your organization’s future at your own peril.

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