HR in the Hot Seat

Employers are facing challenges with talent recruitment and retention, navigating remote work, and supporting employees’ mental health, and Lee Yarborough, President and CEO of Propel HR says these trends are true whether one has ten employees or two thousand.

This can create particular challenges for nonprofit organizations.  But they also mean that nonprofits may be able to differentiate themselves in this competitive market.  Lee joined us to brief nonprofit leaders on these trends, offer suggestions, and answer HR questions.

The nationwide talent shortage is well documented; businesses and nonprofits alike are having trouble finding employees to fill roles.  Several factors are at play, said Lee, from family decisions to values realignment to funds.  It’s an employee’s market.

How can a nonprofit compete?  Lee pointed out that people leave a job for three reasons: 1) a lack of opportunity or dead end on the organization chart, 2) they don’t feel valued, and 3) money.  It can be hard for nonprofits to compete on money, but we can look at other ways to value our employees and create opportunities at work.

That being said, we do need to look at compensation.  Nonprofits can use resources from Together SC, each other, peer organizations in similar markets, and the Society of Human Resource Management.

Benefits are also important (and Together SC’s new health plan is worth exploring!).  But leaders should think of benefits as more than health insurance – flex time, vacation days, or perks of the job related to the nonprofit (such as theatre tickets, child care, or mental health support).

Even though recruitment can be challenging, Lee reminded everyone that potential employees are everywhere; look at community colleges, your volunteer and client base, your current employees, and people you meet through work or outside of the work hours.

And although you may be eager to fill an empty position, the hiring process should be slow so you can be sure to get it right.  She recommended that it should take about 90 days to hire someone.

If you use team interviews during the process, be sure your team has coordinated on their approach during the interview and be sure the team knows their role (are they advising you or making the decision?) and what isn’t allowed in interviews

Some employees give final candidates a task to do to demonstrate their abilities, such as writing, presenting, or role playing customer service or sales. But be clear that the task is part of the hiring process (and remember, if they don’t want to perform the task, that gives you a clue about the attitude they would bring to their employment).

Lee also encouraged attendees to use an assessment tool during the hiring process.  Employers can use a firm to conduct the assessment, or they can find tools for a cost or for free online.  These assessments don’t help only during hiring; they are an excellent tool for the employee’s manager going forward.

Once the hire is made, employers should turn their attention to the onboarding process.  Lee said it is so important to make new people feel welcome.  She and those present offered ideas including one-on-one lunches during the first month, having employees reach out individually beforehand to welcome, and sending a welcome video before the new hire’s first day.  And of course, make sure to have positive communication with those you don’t choose – you don’t want to burn a bridge or give a bad impression of your organization.

A good hire should result in a good employee – and keeping a good employee is good for both productivity and cost.  Lee said that it costs as much as twice the employee’s salary to replace them.  Be sure to encourage and celebrate employees and create a positive and supportive culture.  One tactic Lee has seen is a “stay interview” (rather than an exit interview).  Periodically ask employees what keeps them at the workplace and check in with them.  This is an activity that board members can help with at a nonprofit.

Solid HR policies help the workplace operate smoothly with clear expectations.  Lee pointed out that if you have HR policies – and you should – it’s as important to practice what they say. You may not give much thought to HR policies once they are written, but they will be the first thing that employees pull out when they are disgruntled.  Set a time to go through them periodically – annually or more frequently – to be sure you practices match your policies, and be sure to establish a formal process for performance reviews.

The HR trends of remote work and flex time can be helpful to both employees and employers but also tricky to navigate.  For remote work, Lee cautioned that employers should be aware that if employees are based out of state, there may be different laws that may regulate their employment.  In addition, workers compensation covers work at home, so be aware that if someone is injured on the job but at home, the employer may be liable.  Legal issues aside, you need to be thoughtful about how to manage and communicate with each other in a virtual setting and establish expectations for work styles (e.g. can employees zoom from bed, should cameras be off or on for Teams calls, what is a reasonable response time for email or Slack).

Now that there are fewer walls around our workplaces, we are more aware of how our mental health impacts and is impact by our work.  We bring our whole selves to the workplace.  If employees appear to be struggling, Lee encouraged employers to take time to check in on how they are doing. If there are challenges that need professional support, an Employee Assistance Program can be help.  She added that you can support employees’ feelings without opinion or bias.  As an example, she pointed out that on the day of the Dobbs decision (overturning Roe vs. Wade), emotion rippled through the workplace – devastation on the part of some and jubilance on the part of others.  These are real and powerful emotions that an employer can acknowledge without expressing support for or disagreement with them.

When there are challenges with employees, documentation of the situation is imperative.  But consider what information and tone is necessary for the documentation.  Lee said that a good standard is to think what a jury would think about it.  For example, if an employee is consistently late, you as the supervisor can simply email the CEO and say, “Jane was 20 minutes late today, and this is the third time this month that she has been more than 15 minutes late.”  You don’t need to include how you feel about it or your conjecture about why she’s late.

If you do need to terminate employment, Lee encouraged leaders to act fast.  Even though it is hard to do, this is leadership, and it’s better for the organization and the rest of the staff.

Lee encouraged attendees by reminding them, “If you’re doing the right thing for people, you’re likely doing the right thing by the law.”


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