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What Bosses can learn from the pandemic-driven labor movement

You led them through the pandemic, now lead them through the labor movement.


Your Staff is tired. Workers have pivoted as much as they can. Some have had their hours and pay cut, some have changed sectors, and some are navigating complicated medical and personal situations while progressing their careers and paying their bills.


It hasn’t gotten any easier with inflation. If you thought you needed to adjust salaries before, you probably feel way behind now.


 graphic of a woman holding a giant light bulb, seemingly floating in space. She looks disgruntled.

We know: you’ve also been through a lot. The pandemic has taken monumental efforts on the part of nonprofit leaders—and we’re grateful for efforts that recognize this and enable true rest. But you’re in charge of your staff, and it’s beyond time to get moving however you can. People are struggling, and ultimately it’s up to decision-makers to steer the ship to save them.


On the heels of leading your organization through the pandemic, you need to lead your people through the new labor movement. You may have noticed we’re not big fans of blaming workers (we’re on the quiet firing side of the argument). We’ve been in hiring positions long enough to know that if you aren’t attracting talent, it’s probably because of you, not them.


It’s tempting to focus this entire conversation on increasing salaries (and, hey, we’re here for that). But leaders need to expand their understanding of what it means to actually invest in employees, and we don’t mean the occasional company-wide shout-out via email or mandatory fun.


Even “improving salaries” can take many different forms. You can add a cost of living increase or increase one you already have. You can add new positions to spread the massive workload around. You can streamline programs and initiatives and focus on the most essential stuff (yes, scale back) until you can afford to properly grow your staff alongside your organization. You can plan rest into the quarterly or annual schedule, and actually make sure it happens by doing it yourself.


Please don’t misunderstand us: higher (and transparent) salaries should absolutely be part of your long-term plan to recruit and retain workers. Join the #ShowtheSalary movement. Pay attention to (and work to close) the difference between your lowest and highest paid employees, and make sure your salary floor is at the very least a living wage.


Investing in your employees will mean different things to different organizations, but these changes will show workers you’re aware of and responsive to their needs.


Here are some other ways you can take care of your people:


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1. Reconsider the top-down hierarchy

There are lots of ways to organize staff. Anything you can do to increase access to decision-makers and increase employee autonomy will result in happier, more effective employees. Perhaps a flat or circular org chart would work for you. Flatarchy, anyone?


2. Let bad employees go, especially if they’re in positions of power

Often, people don’t quit jobs; they quit managers. So make sure yours are working well with your people and advocating for their needs. If they’re bad—which sometimes means ineffective, but can also mean toxic—you’ve got to let them go.


3. Get real feedback in performance reviews—including yours

Feedback is a critical part of evaluating employees and developing strategic plans. Make sure every employee (including you!) gets real feedback about their performance. You may find out that an employee who isn’t great in the office is dynamite with vendors and community partners. Or that despite your friendly relationship with your team, they’re afraid to tell you that you’re a micromanager.


A graphic illustration of a large calendar with x marks noting vacation days, an office chair, coffee cup and what appears to be a bus pass and ticket stub.

4. Improve your benefits game

We know you don’t have a budget like Electric or Duolingo, but we also know there are ways you can improve without breaking the bank. If you can’t afford fully paid parental leave right now, consider changing the definition of who qualifies as a parent, or extending the length of leave. If you can’t afford to offer unlimited PTO, could you at least grant everyone a few extra days? Or extend the holiday break? There are lots of smart ways to make a real impact on your employees—and they’ll appreciate your efforts even if you need to start small.


5. Match work expectations with support

If you want employees to do more, give them more. This can be money, tools, access, or autonomy. But never ask workers to carry out additional responsibilities or a massive project without the appropriate resources. If you do, you’re setting yourself up for more turnover, weeks of recruitment, and the capacity drain that comes with it.


 

We’ll end with this: when we talk about workers’ rights, we mean it for everyone, including the executive director. While we acknowledge the power and privilege of being an organizational leader, we also know firsthand how hard it is to be the one who goes to sleep with making payroll on your mind, how hard can be to let even a toxic employee go, and how hard it is to move forward if you have a board of directors that doesn’t get it. Our points here are for everyone who leads people, from board members to directors, to department heads, to managers-of-one - whether you have one or one hundred people reporting to you, this is your call to take care of them as best you can.


Need help? Whether you’re sprucing up your application materials for your next gig, struggling to change sectors, or working to keep your employees happy before they depart en masse, we’ve got you.

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