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  • Pat Libby

How to Cure the Epidemic of Unappreciated Staff

Eight years ago I worked on a research project with some colleagues at the University of San Diego that measured public confidence in nonprofit organizations.

We called our research report “The Appreciated Sector,” because we found that people had a much higher opinion of nonprofits than they did of the private or public sectors (sadly, almost no one likes the government). That’s still true today.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of what I’ve been seeing inside different types of nonprofit organizations, namely, oodles of staff who are telling me that they feel unappreciated.

These folks don’t strike me as being whiners. I can tell that they are mission driven. They feel passionate about their work and are smart and articulate about the challenges they face.

Yet way too many lament that they don’t receive any recognition for what they do and that higher-ups within the organization seldom bother to ask their opinion of how things could work better (a subject I’ve written about in several of my previous blogs).

Sure, these employees would like a raise (who wouldn’t?) but that’s not what’s bugging them (and me).

What’s bugging them is a lack of acknowledgement for their work.

So what’s a senior manager to do?

First, make sure that formal evaluations take place within your organization on a regular basis. New employees should be evaluated after three months and thereafter, annually on the anniversary of that person’s hiring date.

The evaluation should contain a professional development plan. The plan doesn’t need to be elaborate but it should be a short, thoughtful list of 1-3 items that the person needs to work on during the year to become more highly skilled.

That said, supervisors shouldn’t wait for an evaluation to provide feedback. Feedback that is both positive and corrective needs to be given on an as-needed basis in a thoughtful manner.

That means no shouting out “How could you have done that???????????” when someone makes a mistake or even thanking someone for doing a good job without looking them in the eye.

Third, and this is a biggie, deliberately acknowledging good works publicly! What do I mean by publicly?

If Joe does something that is really outstanding, mention it during a staff meeting. Not only will he feel acknowledged, others will notice that you are noticing what’s going on within the organization and that will in turn make them feel good.

Staff will rightly feel that someone is paying attention when good stuff happens!

Finally, provide opportunities for staff to give their input and to have meaningful opportunities for give-and-take with senior managers.

Marla Black, the CEO of Junior Achievement of San Diego (one of my wonderful organizational change clients), does this by having a monthly “lunch with Marla” that is open to all staff. These popular lunches give everyone within Junior Achievement the chance to get to know the boss, spend quality time with her, and for her to get to know them and to listen to their thoughts, concerns and ideas.

Junior Achievement is also doing a lot of work on restructuring the organization so that staff have regular input into the day-to-day operations and planning (something we’ve cooked up together).

People feel appreciated when their ideas and hard work are acknowledged.

Within nonprofit organizations, money is nearly always in short supply but heartfelt commitment isn’t and appreciation doesn’t have to be.


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Contact us to learn more about how we can help with organizational change and restructuring your organization. Pat Libby Consulting is a San Diego firm that offers nonprofit consulting and philanthropy consulting services to organizations like Junior Achievement.


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