Monday, October 31, 2011

Independent Schools And Job Satisfaction: Reports Suggest Difference With Other Nonprofits

A recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy highlights the findings from two reports concerning a rise in job dissatisfaction among nonprofit employees.

Among the findings:
  • 70% of those surveyed said their work was either disappointing or somewhat fulfilling.
  • 25% said they were considering looking for a job outside of the nonprofit arena.
  • 40% said that the factors they ranked as most essential are not on display at their nonprofits:—“respect, trust, and support by management” as well as a sense that their organization has “a compelling mission.”
  • About 50% said they felt recognition and reward for their hard work and outstanding performance were essential.
  • 60% of workers in Washington and 65% in New York said hard work was not valued at their organization.
  • Pay cuts that many nonprofit workers have taken may be exacting a cost in employee satisfaction: About 50% of the workers in both surveys said a salary reduction would be a reason to leave and a more important motivation for departure than a change in work expectations or job description.
Compare this current (2011) report with another report on nonprofit employee satisfaction from 2002.  It was also featured in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Among the findings in 2002:
  • 75% of respondents reported that they are at least "somewhat satisfied" with their salaries and 83% said the same about their benefits.
  • 73%  surveyed strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that it is easy to burn out in their jobs, and the same percentage strongly or somewhat agreed that they always have too much work to do.
  • 44% of nonprofit workers said their organizations do not do a good job of disciplining poor performers, although this finding compared favorably with the 53% of for-profit workers and 67% of government workers who told researchers the same thing.
What can independent school leaders take away from these reports?  As nonprofit educational institutions, are there any lessons to be learned from these reports?

That answer may not be so clear.  

A report by the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) originally published by NAIS President Pat Bassett on July 25, 2004, but updated on January 12, 2011, suggests a much different picture about job satisfaction among independent school teachers than the rest of the nonprofit world.  The NAIS report speaks of satisfaction:
Recent research on independent school teachers indicates that 84% were very satisfied with their teaching jobs and 90% planned to continue teaching, a much higher satisfaction rate that in the general working population, and significantly higher than the satisfaction levels at other kinds of schools. On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = not comfortable and 5 = very comfortable), independent school teachers in the study indicated extraordinarily high comfort levels with the subjects they teach (4.74) and the students they teach (4.73). They indicated equally high scores on various litmus-test satisfaction questions: looking forward to work each day (4.36); teaching career as having more advantages than disadvantages (4.49); becoming a teacher again if they had the chance to start all over (3.95); and having a high level of influence on designing curricula (89%).1 Whereas teacher attrition in other types of schools tends to be high, especially in the first three years, it is quite low in independent schools.
It would appear that, to paraphrase Tip O'Neill's take on politics, "all job satisfaction is local."  I also recognize that the three reports above were not using a consistent survey instrument and comparing results from such reports is not scientific.

On the other hand, if you take the reports at face value, independent school leaders create and preserve environments that respect the value of each employee, provide opportunities for teachers to carry out the mission of the school

  • Compelling missions are attractive to potential independent school teachers.  As a school leader, you  need to constantly work to help teachers take the mission from the frame on your wall and put it into action on a daily basis.
  • Teachers who are not demonstrating a commitment to your school's mission either need to be engaged and guided back to the mission or counseled off of your staff.
  • Revisiting teacher compensation needs to be a consistent part of your operations.  Examining the entire package (salary and benefits) for potential support is key.  In tough economic times, considering or reconsidering innovative means to compensate employees is important.
  • Always be looking for opportunities to recognize outstanding efforts by the faculty and staff.
  • Remember to view decisions through a symbolic frame.  Doing so adds value to generally ordinary events.  Establish, respect, and observe your school's traditions and ceremonies.
  • Work to identify your key/core operations, make sure those are properly staffed, and seek out additional support for initiatives that fall outside of those key areas.  This is a great place to nurture your volunteers to help avoid employee burnout.
  • Independent school employees, unlike some other nonprofits, work very close to their intended audience on a daily basis.  It is easier to find satisfaction with your work when you are engaging with your target audience personally.  Teachers work with students and parents every day.  An employee at a large global nonprofit may rarely (if ever) actually work with the audience the organization exists to serve.  When you see first hand how your efforts are making a difference, it is more likely to be satisfied with your work.
As with many reports, there are lessons independent schools can learn from nonacademic organizations.  There also appears to be much other nonprofits can learn from the leadership of independent schools.

  • Provide and support a compelling mission.  Engage your employees in work that matters.
  • Show and tell your employees how much you value their efforts.
  • Nurture a climate that rewards independence and innovation.
  • Work to make sure your employees have as much time working with your intended audience as possible.
  • Use tradition, ceremony, and celebrations to highlight your accomplishments and kick-off new initiatives.
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