October 24, 2011

Nonprofit Employers Don’t Meet Workers’ Needs for Job Satisfaction, Surveys Find

Two reports released Monday show a disconnect between what nonprofits provide to their workers and what employees say is essential to their job satisfaction.

Seventy percent of workers in two surveys said their jobs were either disappointing or only somewhat fulfilling. That might be a reason 25 percent of workers said they were considering looking for a job outside the nonprofit world.

The surveys gathered data from about 3,500 nonprofit workers in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas and were conducted by the staffing firm Professionals for NonProfits.

Among the other findings:

  • Four out of 10 workers in both cities said that the factors they ranked as most essential are not on display at their nonprofits:—“respect, trust, and support by management” as well as a sense that their organization has “a compelling mission.”
  • About half of all workers said they felt recognition and reward for their hard work and outstanding performance were essential. And yet 60 percent of workers in Washington and 65 percent in New York said hard work was not valued at their organization.
  • The pay cuts that many nonprofit workers have taken during the economic downturn may be exacting a cost in employee satisfaction: About half of workers in both surveys said a salary reduction would be a reason to leave and a more important motivation for departure than a change in work expectations or job description.

Gayle Brandel, president of Professionals for NonProfits, said employers should be concerned about the financial challenge posed by worker unhappiness.

“The cost of employee disengagement and poor performance is very high, as is the cost of turnover,” she says. “Given the increased competition for talent in the sector and the limited resources of nonprofits, these costs hit the bottom line and so the price an organization pays for disengaged staff can be staggering.”

Non-Essential Perks

The survey pointed to some deep dysfunction at many nonprofits. For instance, just under half of workers said they felt it was essential that office politics not get in the way of their work. Yet three out of four employees said internal politics hampered their abilities to function in their jobs.

In other cases, the survey suggested that no matter how much employees may appreciate some of the perks of nonprofit life, they do not rate them as essential as issues like pay and trust.

For example, only 12 percent of workers cited child care or parental leave as essential, while 17 percent of workers said they valued flexible work schedules.

Even so, many employers offer those perks; 30 percent offer leaves and 49 percent offer flexible schedules.

“I was most surprised by the fact that many of the usual benefits that are offered to nonprofit employees are not considered essential by employees,” says Ms. Brandel.

Even though the survey showed some disturbing issues for nonprofits managers, the majority of employees were optimistic about the future: Nearly 60 percent think that the next five years will be challenging but “will get much better” for the nonprofit world. But a similar share believe that “bold leadership for dramatic change is needed.”

The “Good Nonprofit Job Reports” for New York and Washington are available free on the Professionals for Nonprofits Web site.