There are a lot of changes afoot in the world of work, and the non profit sector isn’t protected from them. In fact, it can be even more volatile than the private sector in some ways.
I wrote some time ago about workplace culture, but now I want to take it wider and look at a bigger picture of trends affecting non profit sector workplaces. What else is going on in the world of work that can affect how much you enjoy your work and how effective your team are? This post aims to look at the wider picture. Workplace culture has an effect on employee engagement, and we’ll have a look at that, as well as trends in employment generally, like zero hours contracts, part time and self employed working, and what’s happening in the voluntary sector. We’ll briefly cover some recent studies into the future of work and productivity, and the changes that technology is likely to bring.
The government is celebrating highest levels of employment since records began in 1971, but in the meantime, many charities are all too well aware that levels of poverty, including in work poverty, are increasing problems. The level of employment masks a growth in part time work, zero hours contracts and self employment – much of which is low paid, or not really self employment such as delivery driving. The voluntary sector is a big employer of part time staff, a significant proportion of whom would like more hours, and the highest proportion of staff on temporary contracts, so high levels of uncertainty and instability. Many people in the sector know that they are trading better pay and long term prospects for making a difference in the world, but that doesn’t mean they won’t suffer the consequences of low pay and uncertain employment status.
Skills shortages are affecting all sectors, though information on the non profit sector specifically is hard to come by. Despite the recent election and the challenges of Brexit, there are a few government reports that address the issue of work. The recent Taylor review of modern working practices examines what constitutes good work, and BEIS issued a green paper, to be followed in due course with a white paper, on the UK industrial strategy. (References are provided in the full report, available to download.)
And what about technology? It's hard to say how much this will affect the non profit sector, or how, but what is certain is that there will be changes. Some jobs will go, and others will be created in their place, and those who can adapt, as always, will weather the storm best. Jobs that need the human touch won’t be taken on by AI or robotics though. The data input finance person will be replaced, but the finance director won’t. Fundraisers won’t be replaced. Care staff will still be needed.
Ever since the banking crisis in 2008, the sector has been suffering from the financial squeeze. Voluntary funding is recovering slowly, but still not up to pre recession levels. Earned income has been rising slowly, to some extent compensating for this. But charities are having to do more with less, with rising demand for services in the wake of a shrinking public sector. Local authorities are fast approaching the point where they can only just about meet their statutory obligations, according to one report, and there will be little or nothing left for other services, leaving the non profit sector to fill in the gaps.
At the same time, public trust in charities is declining, possibly because of the unfavourable press they’ve received. This has led to a change in the regulatory framework. Whilst still called self regulated, I find it a bit of a stretch when we’re subject to some of the same regulations as other organisations, plus charity law. There is now the new Fundraising Regulator to monitor our fundraising communications, and the advent of GDPR law that comes into effect next May.
All this has cost implications for organisations. Not just in the sense of running costs, overheads, but in the effects they have on the leadership and staff. Productivity drops when people feel overwhelmed and overworked and unappreciated. Since the recession, government and business thinkers have been puzzled by the drop in UK productivity. Equally, there are those who link productivity to motivation, employee engagement and other factors at work. I previously said my favourite definition of workplace culture is the by product of consistent behaviour, and if you have a team who feel overworked and underappreciated, I’ll wager you have a culture you don’t really want. You may even have stated aims that run counter to this, but stated aims mean nothing in the face of consistent behaviour.
Sickness absence continues to be a cost for organisations, and stress is the biggest cause of long term absence. Presenteeism (where people come to work even though they are ill) is reported to be rising. Staff turnover is difficult to quantify for the non profit sector as a whole, but the costs of fully trained and experienced staff leaving, recruitment and training to replace them are undeniable.
Employee engagement is becoming a bit of a buzzword, but Gallup have been collecting figures on this for a decade, and their findings are remarkably consistent over this time; fully engaged staff are a minority. UK figures are not easy to find, and non profit sectors even thinner on the ground. If you’ve done a staff survey that may give you some indication about your organisation. But just measuring it and finding out if it’s low isn’t enough, what actions are you taking as a result of your findings? Engaged staff are committed to the purpose, enthusiastic advocates for your organisation, are more productive, stay longer and are less prone to sickness absence. What is it costing you to have staff who are not fully engaged? What is the cost of the actual culture being at odds with the culture you want to foster?
We live in interesting times, as the old saying goes. There are many challenges facing the non profit sector, and I’ve only really scratched the surface here, focusing on matters that will affect those employed in the sector.
With the challenges you’re facing – a difficult jobs market, skills shortages, rising demand for services, changes to the regulatory framework, technology, it makes sense to do what you can about the things you have some control over - overwork, stress, low productivity, absenteeism and high staff turnover. By making some changes to your leadership and management style, you can quickly increase engagement and notice the benefits of a better workplace.
I know from many years working in and with the non profit sector, it's full of people who are committed to doing their very best to make a difference in the world and help those with less.
By taking steps to make the workplace better, you're not just helping the people you work with, you're making a massive impact for the people your organisation serves too.
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