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How Do We Prevent Turnover and Burnout?

I am an HR generalist at a nonprofit social services agency that deals with domestic violence. Due to the nature of the work, we have always experienced a turnover rate between 30 and 40 percent. Is our turnover rate at or near average benchmarks for this line of work? And knowing we can’t change the stressful nature of the work, how do we keep our best people from burning out?

— Stress is Killing Us, HR/facilities manager, nonprofit, Phoenix, Arizona

March 28, 2014
Related Topics: Employee Engagement, Motivating Employees, Retention, The Latest, Dear Workforce

Dear Stress:

Let me jump into the first part of your question by noting I was not able to find specific percentages regarding employee turnover in agencies working with domestic or family abuse. The volume of research on secondary burnout and “compassion fatigue” — when a caregiver gets emotionally worn out — illustrates the gravity of this issue.

Here are some steps for boosting retention by enabling your team to better cope with and process job-related stress:

1. Grant people the authority and autonomy to make decisions, then hold them accountable to high yet attainable performance standards. Organizations that practice this generally have people who are strongly committed to the mission and tend to be more resilient when stress hits.

2. Carve out time during team meetings to discuss how the team is doing as a mutual support system. Are there any relationship conflicts that need to be addressed by the group or with the supervisor? Sometimes you may want to use this to focus on the kinds of people or cases that are the most difficult or volatile and tend to emotionally drain most professionals. Also, this is a good time and place for getting input from members on policy, practices and procedures that impact people’s daily routines. This process helps folks feel more in control and less prone to burnout. There is more commitment and camaraderie when team members, rather than the supervisor, facilitate this meeting on a rotational basis. And speaking of rotation, job rotation or job sharing or partnering may inoculate for burnout, including the opportunity for special assignments.

3. Schedule regular consultation sessions at least once a month with supervisors or in-house coaches who are experienced in particular subject areas. Consider developing a mentor system. In addition, supervisors and managers need to create time for “as needed” drop-ins. Another resiliency-building idea: Encourage each employee to find a “stress buddy” as part of his or her support system. Two of the biggest psycho-social challenges for people in the social services are avoiding a rigid “save the world” idealism and responding positively when their personal history bleeds into a client’s domestic crisis. Ensure front-line employees have ready access to professional counseling, ideally provided through your employee assistance program.

4. Foster work-wellness balance.Schedule time during each month in which staff meets informally for collective recreation and resilience. You might even explore if a sister social agency could join you. Consider a reward system with special prizes. Rather than taking one big vacation, encourage your people to take periodic long weekends to recharge their batteries.

5. Offer periodic help to employees to improve their sleep patterns, set boundaries, pursue a hobby, get regular exercise and eat a balanced diet. This will fortify both one’s mind and mood — and will go a long way to fostering individual and organizational hardiness.

SOURCE: Mark Gorkin, The Stress Doc, Washington, D.C., March 27, 2014


 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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