Remaking the Association Workplace
Staff Well-Being

Six Ways to Keep Your Best People

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With more employees than ever changing jobs, smart strategies for staff retention are especially essential. Two experts share tips on what encourages workers to stick around.

The Great Resignation—the trend of employees changing jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic at record rates—has put retention front and center of associations’ management needs. Now that employees have become used to more flexible work arrangements, many are more sensitive to ones they dislike and are prepared to move on if necessary.

“Employees are not going to stay with an organization that isn’t treating them the way they want to be treated,” said Amanda Haddaway, executive coach and managing director of HR Answerbox.

Naturally, she says, associations should look at turnover numbers to get a sense of whether management problems are alienating employees. But the flaw with that metric is that it’s what Haddaway calls a “rearview mirror” number. It’s better if organizations take steps to improve retention before it becomes a problem.

Haddaway and Jon Hockman, FASAE, chief practice officer at McKinley Advisors, shared six tactics association leaders can implement to shore up employee retention.

Recognize that being an association is an advantage. One reason employees go job hunting is that they lack a sense of purpose in their work. Associations, because they’re rooted in a mission to support a particular profession or industry, have a built-in message about the work’s inherent value. “Mission creates a sense of meaning that I think so many folks are craving,” said Hockman. The Great Resignation “has affected associations, but I do think we have a card to play that’s powerful and unique from the corporate world.”

“The Great Resignation has affected associations, but we have a card to play that’s powerful and unique from the corporate world.” —Jon Hockman, FASAE, McKinley Advisors

Conduct “stay” interviews. Exit interviews provide valuable information about the mood in a workplace, Haddaway says, but they only catch people as they’re headed out the door. She recommends that leaders also hold “stay” interviews with key employees about their concerns. Such conversations both help leaders understand the current culture and help employees feel heard. “It’s an opportunity to sit down and ask, ‘What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Why do you continue to work for our organization? What’s driving you?’” she said.

Host “anchor days.” Return-to-work mandates have often backfired, but employees may still crave opportunities to reconnect in person. McKinley has developed a compromise, announcing days when senior staff will be in the office and giving employees the option to come in on those days. “We’ve created a company-wide calendar to support that, so people can see that when they come in they won’t be sitting by themselves,” he said.

Get middle managers on the same page. Not every leader will embrace flexible work arrangements with the same enthusiasm. But in the same way that an association board speaks in one voice, even if the board isn’t always unanimous, managers should be applying policies and showing support for them across the board. “Some managers more easily embrace the flexibility mindset,” Hockman said. “Whether you’re a chief human resources officer or CEO or anybody in the C-suite, you need to help your managers have a more consistent approach.”

Keep communication constant, in groups and individually. One element of consistent management is ensuring that there are regular opportunities for communication. That can be check-ins or stay interviews, but it can also involve digital tools like Slack, which some employees may be more comfortable with.  “Instant-messaging services allow people to be in regular communication with teams,” Haddaway said. “But really making sure that managers are carving out time to do one-on-one meetings with each of their team members is one of the most effective ways to really stay on top of what’s going on with each individual employee.”

Ask your people what they want, but be clear about outcomes. It’s important to lead a discussion about worker preferences, Haddaway says, so long as it’s clear that leaders won’t always be able to satisfy every request. Every need will be tempered by larger organization needs. Find out what it is they want in an ideal work situation, but ask that question with caution,” she said. “If you are in an environment, for example, where your board is very adamant about getting people back to the office space, then you know you have to kind of balance those two competing priorities.”

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.

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