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Employee turnover – let’s change our attitude about it

The dreaded employee turnover rate regularly hovers around 25% or even 30% at many nonprofits. A 2019 Nonprofit Standards benchmarking survey found that 60% of nonprofit organizations report that staff retention and recruitment is either a moderate or high challenge for them, particularly those that employ a significant amount of direct service workers. This should be expected. It’s just how it is…right?

We have this idea in nonprofit work that employee turnover is the norm - that’s what happens when you can’t pay well, or you don’t have enough resources. Also, millennials can’t sit still, so if you employ a younger workforce, they’ll leave in a year or two. Right?!

But what if that’s not true? What if this narrative we tell ourselves is causing us to become complacent, a self-fulfilling prophecy even. Perhaps as a sector we need to work harder to retain top talent instead of looking to excuses as to why that just isn’t possible. Or just sticking with the philosophy that high turnover rates are inevitable. I would even suggest we look to our for-profit peers for guidance on how to do this better.

I spent over a decade in one social service organization. This particular organization faced all the typical challenges other nonprofits faced but I was able to develop roots, build community, learn and grow in a place where I felt good about the work I was doing and knew I was making an impact. I think it’s absolutely possible to expect that kind of tenure from nonprofit employees and there are many strategies to get us there.

Let’s not let ourselves off the hook here!

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