Preserve Your Staff’s Passion in 2022

The pandemic has shown how capable association staffs are at adapting and innovating. But leaders need to recognize the toll it takes.

A new year is an opportunity to start fresh, but there’s no question that we’re still bringing a lot of uncertainty with us into 2022. As public-health experts, political leaders, and individuals do their best to contain another spike in COVID-19 cases, many institutions and venues are closing again until the big wave passes. It may or may not be the last. 

It’s also clear that the two-year pandemic has taken a toll on your staff’s well-being, regardless of how they’ve been personally affected by the virus. According to the latest edition of Salesforce’s Nonprofit Trends Report [PDF], nearly a third (32 percent) of nonprofits cited “ensuring the mental health and well-being of their employees” as a major concern. One likely reason for that is the new pressure staff has been under to adjust their work lives during the pandemic. After all, the previous year’s Nonprofit Trends Report [PDF] focused almost exclusively on digital transformation efforts. 

That retooling would explain why C-suite leaders have been as susceptible to pandemic-era stress as anybody else; the report notes that “C-suite turnover at U.S. nonprofits is at an unprecedented pace.” The good news is that organizations seem to have recognized the seriousness of the problem and adapted: 76 percent of respondents said that their nonprofit provides “support services to help with mental health and well-being,” with substantial commitments among U.S. nonprofits to stress-relief education (68 percent) and promoting overall health (70 percent).

The not-so-good news is that it may not be enough. A whopping 85 percent of respondents say that staff retention will be a continuing or increasing challenge in the coming year, thanks to changing skill requirements and old-fashioned burnout. Anything that encourages employees to feel part of a larger mission can be meaningful, according to the report’s authors: “Actions like promoting a workplace of empathy and inclusion, encouraging employees to build networks that can provide emotional support, and celebrating collective success that fosters a sense of belonging are a great start.”

Another tool is recognizing that the particular talent that allowed your association to succeed in the midst of all these changes is not an easily renewable resource. Writing in Inc. last month, B2B company CEO Maria Haggerty spotlighted passion as the quality that executives most desire among their employees. There are good practical reasons for that, of course—self-starters don’t require as much supervision and are inherently excited to get to work. But that also makes it easy to take such workers for granted.

“One of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned is to ask how employees feel about their work and workplace.”

Maria Haggerty

Be hands-on and engaged with those employees, Haggerty says. “One of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned … is how beneficial it is to ask how employees feel about their work and workplace,” she writes. “Making a point to learn about who they are, how they operate, and what they think is a key to our success. I’ve made a habit of asking my employees for feedback that allows me to take their temperature not only about their role but about the company as a whole—for example, one thing they like about the company and one thing they’d like to see improved.”

One way or another, 2022 has plenty of surprises in store. Perhaps it’s the year the pandemic is something we observe mostly in the rear-view mirror, or the year where it’s clear we’ll be hunkered down in a new normal for a while. Either way, it spells change for workers, which spells stress. If the passion is there among your staff, resolve to do what you can to preserve it.

(Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!