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Staff retention is critical for long-term success but often feels like a never-ending battle. Keeping your best employees is difficult, but they’re the ones making meaningful connections with members, so staff retention is essential for maintaining a positive culture.

According to Courtney Harrness, the senior executive director at the YMCA of the Twin Cities, there are three major challenges community rec centers face in retaining staff members: competition, wages and leadership opportunities.

Today’s employees put a lot of value on enjoying their jobs. If they don’t like where they work, they’ll search elsewhere. “With so many choices of where to work, when to work, how to work and, most importantly, why to work, our facilities are challenged to be better daily,” said Harrness.

And if staff aren’t seeking an appealing workplace, they’re following the money.

“As leaders, we must recognize new employees are now counting on wages to offset student loan debt,” explained Harrness. “That means the right job is sometimes put behind the job that can pay the bills.”

In addition to seeking better pay, staff members can feel underused or mismanaged, in which case they’ll follow opportunities where they see the most potential career growth, according to Harrness.

While these are significant challenges to good staff retention, there are steps any organization can take to make the workplace a desirable, long-term option for employees.

The Three Ps

To combat staff attrition, Harrness has identified three focus areas: purpose, passion and path.

Operationally, the best and broadest preventative measure you can take is reinforcing your facility’s purpose on a daily basis. “Community rec centers should be consistent with messaging around why they exist,” explained Harrness. “Our employees need to know why it’s important for them to show up every day.”

As you are communicating your mission daily, you’ll be able to see which employees buy in and execute it. It’s imperative for you to empower them with new opportunities as they arise.

“If employees are on board with your purpose, don’t hold them back,” said Harrness. “Allow them to work through different departments and areas to find the best fit, where they can use their passion.”

According to Harrness, allowing employees to fully embrace their passion can be the hardest tactic for leaders to buy in to. “This one is a little scary because it means letting go of some things,” he said. “However, our employees must be empowered to make decisions and change the way we operate from the ground up.”

Facilitating and encouraging passion-driven work from engaged employees often results in good job performance and a desire for further leadership opportunities.

“If we have employees who are passionate about our purpose, it is our responsibility as leaders to put them on their own path to the next position,” said Harrness.

According to Harrness, that path should have more to do with new responsibilities and leadership roles than money. “This looks different now — a path means new challenges, better recognition of work, and an opportunity to support the creation of new offerings,” he explained.

Through sharing your mission, allowing employees to embrace their passion, and empowering them with new opportunities, you’re making your employees feel engaged and important. Ultimately, this is the key to good staff retention.

“Our next generation of leaders has the skills and information to transform our facilities now, if we get out of their way,” said Harrness. “Show them a path and don’t slow them down.”

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Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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