November 9, 2021

Debunking the 3 Employment Myths that Spark High Turnover

You seek to attract, keep, and reengage talented employees. What’s one thing that gets in your way?
Nonprofit employment myths, such as:
  •  the work is easy,
  •  everyone is nice, and
  •  that internal operations, therefore, are perfect.
But that’s not all. Besides employment myths, you might also bump up against nonprofit money myths and nonprofit development myths.) Myths are one of the perennial problems nonprofits face.
While you might not be able to fix all of the reasons nonprofit turnover is high—you can take nonprofit employment myths out of the picture at your nonprofit.

How to Debunk Nonprofit Employment Myths 

When you grow plants from seeds, you harden them before you pop them in your garden. That is, you bring them outside for a few hours over several days to get them used to the sun and breeze to strengthen them before you transplant. You show the baby plants their new reality and help them to succeed in it. Likewise, nonprofit employees benefit from gentle exposure to nonprofit employment realities, especially those new to the sector.
Debunking myths is tough, and it requires you to substitute one set of experiences and expectations with new ones. Moreover, myth-busting challenges because myths contain kernels of truth that the rest of the world reinforces. Therefore, you need a Myth With Reality Replacement Plan that includes a practical process you implement over time, not a one-and-done solution.

3 Practical Solutions to Debunk the 3 Nonprofit Employment Myths

Here’s three nonprofit myth debunking tactics that together create a process to harden your staff:

1. Hiring and Orientation:

Bring the Seedlings Into the Light

During your interview and orientation processes, share the opposite of the employment myths. The reality is that nonprofit work is challenging, people are still people (with all their pluses and minuses), and your operations are a work in progress.
Your candidates and new employees probably won’t believe you.
Myths are sticky. Nonetheless, by sharing the truth, you introduce them to what they’ll encounter and provide fodder for reflections.
For example, when candidates ask for information about your nonprofit, you state, “Here three things people are surprised about when they come to work for us.
  • The challenge of the work
  • Despite our noble calling, people are still people. For example, someone keeps swiping my cookies. We also have policies to ensure the safety of staff and customers because we share an example of people acting up in a nonprofit.
  • We are a work in progress. Of our three values, this one giving your answer is the hardest.

2. Weekly Meetings and Check-ins: 

The Reality is More Complex than the Myth

During early labor with my first child, my body was enveloped in pain far beyond what the Lamaze Class teacher mentioned. Fearful something was wrong, I grabbed a nurse, “Is it supposed to hurt this much?” When she said yes, I worried less. Her answer allowed me to label my new experience “normal and get back to work.
Likewise, your staff needs to label and calibrate their experiences. You help them do this during staff meetings and individual check-ins. For instance, you ask:
  • What part of the job do you find hardest?
  • What’s disappointed you?
  • Where could we do better?
Furthermore, you give shout-outs that reflect the complexity of your work. And remember to share your nonprofit’s vision at these and other gatherings. Encourage people to experience it with you in their imaginations.
Hint: Encourage the sharing of war stories. That is the background to your successes. For example, when a staff member announces, “We just closed a major gift.” After the cheers, ask for the backstory. Give everyone a sense of calls and appointments it took and the people involved.
Stories share truths that shatter myths and replace them with something more valuable, the dynamic and multifaceted nature of your work.

3. Mentoring:

Toward to a More Perfect Union

Provide your best employees mentoring. Mentoring is a type of partnership that provides career growth. It’s an opportunity for the mentee to embrace the realities of thriving at a nonprofit by solving work challenges, inspiring them to become the best possible person, and improving how they work, thus improving your operations. Yes, you’ll invest, but the investment is tiny compared to turnover hassles and costs and the opportunity to grow and benefit from talent.
You’re not alone if nonprofit employment myths run rampant in your nonprofit. Your staff, board, volunteers, and donors believe these myths with all their hearts. Your work debunking myths will be long-term, and it will reward you with staff members and stakeholders who grasp the realities of your work and solve the challenges they face.
As Admiral James Stockdale shared with Jim Collins, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Embrace that employment myths contribute to nonprofit turnover. Then, go forth and harden your employees so they can confront the facts of your current reality and so that you prevail in the end.
Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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