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How to Retain the Best Employees for the Long Term

Your association has big goals, from providing high-quality resources to your members and growing your member base to forming partnerships with your industry’s most influential stakeholders. 

But to achieve these goals, you must have a solid internal team that you can rely on to keep your mission moving forward for years to come. And a big part of having that solid internal team is being able to retain your employees. 

Effective staffing and hiring strategies can help you attract top talent, but how do you ensure your organization's staff stays engaged and excited to be a part of your work?

In this short guide, we’ll cover four actionable tips for strengthening your team and retaining top talent so your organization can experience stability and long-term success while keeping your employees happy.

Take a holistic approach to compensation.

Organizations with tighter or much less flexible budgets than for-profit employers can seriously benefit from updating their approach to employee compensation.

Taking a more holistic approach to compensation can open up new strategies and routes for boosting retention and engagement.

This is typically called the total rewards approach to compensation. According to Astron Solutions, this approach involves offering both direct and indirect forms of compensation:

  • Direct compensation includes salaries, bonuses, and any other financial payment for employees’ work. 
  • Indirect compensation includes benefits (health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off), flexibility, work-life balance, performance recognition programs, career development opportunities, and perks (company cars, phones, etc.).

While money plays an important part in a satisfying employee experience, indirect forms of compensation are also critical. Think of these elements as all the factors that make your organization a place where people want to work. Indirect compensation elements are often the deciding factor for potential candidates or staff members on the fence about staying with your organization or looking for new opportunities.

Build a strong internal culture.

Your association doesn’t exist to make money from dues or to sell access to particular resources. It exists to serve more human-centric purposes in your industry or community, like empowering individuals or other organizations, starting conversations, and advocating for the causes and developments that bring you all together. If your goal is, first and foremost, to deliver that kind of value to your members, take the same approach to your internal culture.

There are a few steps you can take to strengthen your organization’s internal culture:

  • Prioritize communication and openness. This is a best practice for any organization looking to improve its culture. Consistent opportunities for feedback between staff and leadership help staff feel engaged with your mission and strategic goals. Take steps to build an internal communication, resource-sharing, and feedback infrastructure.
  • Connect your mission to the real world whenever possible. We already touched on the fact that organizations have broader missions beyond simply raising money to sustain themselves. Clearly articulate your mission and communicate it to employees. Then, take steps to deliberately connect your operations, special projects, and opportunities back to that mission, whether in formal meetings or simple day-to-day tasks. This is an excellent way to keep staff engaged.
  • Recognize your employees for their contributions. Even a small thank you can go a long way. Demonstrate to your employees that you see and value their work and efforts to move your mission forward. To formalize this process, consider starting an employee recognition program. Identify who will give recognition and how frequently. Also, determine how you’ll show your appreciation. For example, you might send eCards for smaller thank yous and reserve team-wide outings for larger demonstrations of appreciation. 

Your organization’s internal culture plays a huge role in keeping employees engaged with your work and ultimately retaining their talent. Define your values, then find ways to articulate them in tangible ways. Taking culture for granted, being inauthentic, or simply not listening to employees almost always backfires in the long run, usually in the form of unsustainable employee turnover.

Prioritize professional development.

Once a new employee is onboarded and performing their day-to-day tasks proficiently, can they still learn and grow? Providing opportunities to develop new skills and work toward clear career goals can be a big factor in retention. In fact,  according to Zippia, retention rates are 34% higher in organizations that offer employee development opportunities.

Here are some tips for how you can help your employees take advantage of professional development opportunities:

  • Create personalized career paths. No two employees are the same, and neither are their goals for the future. Work with each employee to identify their individual path to growth at your organization and the learning and training they need to get there. A great opportunity to do this is during performance management conversations, but these discussions should be ongoing between managers and their direct reports, not once-a-year events.
  • Educate employees about opportunities you provide or pay for. Many employees may want to tap into professional development opportunities but may not be aware of all you offer or are willing to pay for. For instance, you may offer an annual course about assertive communication, or you may have a budget for employees to use to attend a coding camp. Depending on the nature of your organization, you may offer special access to exclusive opportunities in your field or industry.
  • Offer diverse learning opportunities. Everyone learns in different ways. Make sure to offer plenty of different learning opportunities, from internal meetings for different teams to learn from each other to coaching sessions between leadership and managers to external webinars and online courses. 

The important thing to remember when encouraging employees to pursue professional development is that you need to demonstrate how the skills they’re developing can be used at your organization for continued success and growth. This will encourage your employees to use what they’ve learned to continue working for and strengthening your specific organization.

Encourage work-life balance.

Work-life balance, sometimes called work-life integration, is essential for your employees’ mental, physical, and emotional health. Do your part to encourage employees to find their own healthy balance. This will help them be more effective in their roles and empower them to live happier and healthier lives.

Here are some ways to help encourage work-life balance among your employees:

  • Offer scheduling flexibility so employees can attend doctor appointments, children’s extracurricular events, and more. 
  • Allow employees to work from home for part or all the week, depending on the nature of their roles. 
  • Provide support for managing workload and work-related stress, such as monthly self-care workshops or free access to a meditation or wellness app. 

Above all, encourage employees to communicate their work-life balance needs with your organization. This will help you identify the areas where your employees could use more support and help you provide the tools and resources they need to strike a healthy balance.

Get more strategic with your HR management.

Tackle your retention challenges by getting more strategic with your HR management and leveraging your employee engagement data.

Dig into that engagement data to find areas for improvement as an employer and anticipate issues in advance. For instance, to start improving retention rates, learn as much as possible about why and when staff members choose to leave. Correlate departures with all relevant metrics, like times of compensation changes, promotions, and more.

Then, try to find any commonalities across different segments of your team. For example, let’s say turnover is highest among team members who’ve been at your organization for between one and two years. Why? Reach into your HR data to find some answers, and then start to proactively address the issues you identify.

As you get started, you may find that an effective way to not only interpret your data but also make positive, lasting changes to the employee experience in your organization is to hire an HR consultant for your association. An HR consultant can bring an objective, third-party perspective and help identify problem areas and solutions. Handle the hiring process with care so that you partner with someone who will be the right fit for your organization.

Your association exists to work toward its overarching mission and to serve its members, but you can’t be successful without a strong internal team that sticks with you for the long term.

Get started today by examining your organization’s retention rate and using these tips to improve your retention strategy. As you begin genuine efforts to improve the employee experience at your organization, you’ll start seeing positive results!

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

Jennifer C. Loftus is a founding partner of and national director for Astron Solutions, a compensation consulting firm. Jennifer has 23 years of experience garnered at organizations including the Hay Group, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eagle Electric Manufacturing Company, and Harcourt General. Jennifer has held volunteer leadership roles with SHRM, New York City SHRM, and WorldatWork. She serves as a subject matter expert to the SHRM Learning System and as a SHRM instructor. Jennifer is a sought-after speaker for local and national conferences and media outlets. Jennifer has an MBA in human resource management with highest honors from Pace University and a BS in accounting summa cum laude from Rutgers University. Jennifer holds adjunct professor roles with Pace University, Long Island University, and LIM College. Jennifer received the 2014 Gotham Comedy Foundation’s Lifetime Ambassador of Laughter Award.

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