Examining quiet quitting in the NFP sector

Dec 28, 2022
NFP Talent

Over the past couple of years, a variety of things in the workplace have changed. Remote work became more prevalent as a result of COVID-19, layoffs increased, and we saw the rise of what has been termed “quiet quitting” – which essentially involves not outright quitting a job, but definitely not going above and beyond within a designated role.

The Not-for-Profit (NFP) sector wasn’t isolated from this trend, as many organizations saw some staff moving away from the additional hours and tasks that are commonly accepted as the industry standard. Individuals began re-examining what was important to them. As work-life balance came to the forefront and salaries started to increase in other sectors, NFPs found themselves in a challenging position of attracting and retaining top talent.

To take a step back, it’s important that we look at what “quiet quitting” – also referred to as “coasting culture” – really looks like. Some of the clear markers that should stand out for employers include:

  • Maintaining a strict 9-5 workday
  • Disengaging from colleagues
  • Using more sick and personal days
  • Demonstrating reluctance to return to the office, for those who have been working remotely
  • Showing less enthusiasm about work
  • Not seeing the value in organizational culture

It is important to note that just because an employee demonstrates one of the points mentioned above, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are quiet quitting.

But how are NFPs to know if they are engulfed in an employment phenomenon where these indicators are present, or if the current temperature is instead a result of possible job dissatisfaction and years of burnout in the sector?

The City of Vancouver echoes this line of thinking, stating that “Vancouver organizations are struggling with staff absences,” which is “a symptom of decades of underinvestment in non-profit capacity.” This likely rings true to most individuals who work in NFP organizations. The notion of “doing more with less” has been such a common refrain within organizations, it should almost be part of various mission statements. With staff handling excessive workloads and management relying on what is often an employee’s strong orientation towards the cause, it has resulted in a work environment in which NFP employees are at high risk of burning out.

Also, factoring into the conversation around quiet quitting is whether salaries in NFPs are competitive in today’s landscape. Some would argue that if you’re going to be overworked, you might as well be getting paid well for it – and it’s a strong argument. As many employees started examining their place in the NFP world, it became apparent that there is more of a gap in salaries at many NFPs than originally believed. According to Imagine Canada, average salaries in community NFPs are 35 per cent lower than the economy-wide average in Canada and while 58 per cent of NFPs said they are going to increase wages for existing employees and 31 per cent for new employees, they are starting from a significant salary deficit, creating an unbalanced competitive landscape.

With the high work plus low pay equation prevalent in many NFPs, we’re left to wonder: is the sector more susceptible to quiet quitting than others? The NFP sector hasn’t always been the most willing or quick to change workplace structures and cultures in order to offset some of the downsides to attract and retain staff. Consider the observations below:

  • Unpaid event attendance and participation is more often the norm than the exception
  • Diversity at the leadership level could be improved
  • Only 36 per cent of NFPs have some sort of Employee Assistance Program

Without mindsets and cultures changing, where a positive future can be seen for staff, it could be a tough horizon for NFPs. More than ever, if staff don’t see a clear career path and feel supported on that journey, they are going to explore their options.

It’s not all doom and gloom for NFPs. One of the ways in which the sector is actively making strides is in staff training and development. Recent reports show that 40 per cent of NFPs plan to provide staff with paid time to engage in learning and development programs (compared to 14.3 per cent in the private sector), and 34.2 per cent plan to encourage employees to participate in on-the-job training (26.6 per cent in the private sector). While this is very encouraging news, what tempers these efforts is the tendency for NFP roles to continue expanding, where staff assume additional responsibilities (some without proper training), which creates additional stress.

Quiet quitting in the NFP world really isn’t anything new; it’s just a new name for an existing problem that the pandemic has amplified, as individuals assess what they want from their career and in their lives. But that’s no excuse not to work on a plan to move forward.

Below are some simple strategies that NFPs can work on implementing or improving that can help them become more positive, welcoming, enjoyable and successful workplaces:

  • Be flexible: NFPs should examine if a 9-5 schedule is necessary for all staff. Let’s not forget that this was originally implemented in 1926. More focus should also be placed on the quality of work versus hours “in the office”
  • Model work-life balance: While it’s a great catchphrase, senior leaders should adhere to it and demonstrate its importance. With more people working remotely, the lines between work and life outside of work have been blurred. Senior leaders need to define and maintain boundaries
  • Review employee benefits: Examine the organization’s benefits and determine what can be strengthened or added to make the workplace more competitive and attractive
  • Communicate: Provide staff with a clear vision of a career at the organization, not just an isolated job. People want to feel like they are part of a team and have an opportunity to grow within an organization
  • Check in: Different staff members will deal with challenges in the workplace very differently. Leaders within NFPs should check in on teams to see how each staff member is doing. When issues are raised, leaders should ensure that they are actioned and that feedback is provided

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Jason Egbuna

Marketing Manager, Major, Estate & Leadership Giving Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation




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