If you consider the science of learning and development (SoLD) and how important afterschool professionals and leaders are to the relationships and program quality that foster positive youth outcomes—and you should—the turnover rates are alarming.
But the news isn't all grim.
There are ways afterschool organizations can adapt and decrease turnover.
Start with wages, benefits and continuing education. Determine the best living wage for your employees, so they feel compensated for the hard work of supporting young people and so they can live comfortably.
What are your benefits? Offering health insurance and retirement benefits is a must but is no longer enough. More companies offer creative benefit packages, so you too must provide more. Consider gym or fitness reimbursement plans, student loans, or college saving contributions—benefits that attract more employees and contribute to retention.
Continuing education goes hand-in-hand with wages. Employees need to see leaders and employer are dedicated to them. As the afterschool industry implements practices based on SoLD, don't simply assume staff will know what good practice looks like. Take advantage of training in these areas. For example, offer trauma-informed training so staff are better equipped to support kids who have experienced trauma.
Retain good employees. Positive culture comprising strong relationships, trust and belonging is important in youth development programs and employee satisfaction. Company culture is among the top reasons employees seek other jobs, notes Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace report—and it's a major component in ensuring good employees don't look elsewhere.
Culture happens two ways:
1. Broadly with communication, by saying the right things and developing relationships and trust with employees.
2. Quietly, by company leaders following through on promises or not being above such tasks as pitching in to shovel the sidewalks after a snowstorm.
Leaders need to involve themselves with their staff to create employee engagement. Employees with engaged managers and leaders are more likely to be engaged, and engaged employees are less likely to look for other jobs.
Staff placement plays a large role in retention. Successful diverse hiring and intentional staff placement can create more positive relationships between staff and kids. Be considerate about sites at which to place a staff member. Are they already part of the school community or neighborhood? Do they speak a language common among kids at that school? Does a staff person have a skill set that works better with a specific age group?
Consider establishing an engagement committee, focused on creating social gatherings outside of work to encourage socializing on a more personal level. Recognize milestones to show you care on a personal level.
Leveraging website and social media presence is a way to combat lower engagement found in younger employees. Make time to provide high-quality content, using each platform's best practices, to showcase your organization, staff, and culture.
Gallup reports that more than half of employees surveyed said work-life balance is "very important" to them—to the extent they would consider a different job if it offered more flexibility. How does a supervisor respond when an employee has to call off work because their child is ill? Recognizing life goes beyond work hours goes far in showing employees their quality of life matters.
Additionally, if your organization focuses on providing care for families, it should start with compassion for your own employees' families.
Last, but just as important: Establish a recruitment and retention committee. Creating a group dedicated to finding and keeping good employees demonstrates its importance to your employees. Meeting regularly to attain goals shows your employees that this committee's focus—finding and keeping good employees—is important to your organization.
Adapt. Though the afterschool industry has unique staffing challenges compared with most other industries, organizations that adapt to changing employee behaviors will be most likely to succeed.
Written by: Maureen Alley is the communications director for Wisconsin Youth Company, Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Youth Company provides before-school and afterschool programs, summer day camps, and enrichment programs. NAA Executive member.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of AfterSchool Today.