How to Value Frontline Staff

This post is authored by Samm Williams, a Data and Property Manager at Open Doors CT.

Have you ever noticed when an employee randomly stops coming to work, or storms out of the workplace yelling “I quit!,” it is usually the first time leadership will inquire about why the employee was so unhappy? It is very easy to get caught up in focusing on the services we provide, and lose sight of the employees on the front-line providing the service. But in a time when homeless service providers and organizations are struggling to keep their staff afloat, it’s important now more than ever to keep employees top of mind.

In the homeless services field, income is a consistent struggle: many jobs do not pay wages that can sustain a comfortable lifestyle without having a second job. The pandemic exacerbated these impacts with rapidly rising costs of living. Now, add having a family, with one or more child to it, and you have reached a financial situation that’s impossible to keep up with in some areas. Staff turnover in many agencies are at an all-time high due to lack of adequate pay, and even burnout. Providers work long hours, causing mental, emotional, and physical strain.

How do we assist the staff, so they can continue to assist the individuals we serve? A simple solution is for all providers to increase pay to ensure that their staff earns a livable wage. But until that happens, understanding the difference in wages vs value for employees in the workplace is one step many agencies can make in making sure their staff feel supported and appreciated.

Wage: a fixed payment paid by an employer to an employee for their work done in a specific amount of time

Value: a sense of importance, worth, or usefulness

Which one would you consider more meaningful to the average employee?

Gathering – and Listening to – Staff Input

If a person hates their job, they are going to leave – no matter if they make $16.00 an hour or six figures. It is not always about the dollar amount in the paycheck that keeps employees satisfied. Being valued is a priceless experience in the workplace – when employees feel appreciated and seen, they know that their opinion and experience goes way further than any dollar amount ever can.

How can homeless service organizations make sure that staff feels valued in their daily work? Leadership is the place to start. Implementing inclusivity in the structure and decisions of the agency – with all staff – is critical to staff feeling valued.

There are several ways that organization leaders can gather staff input, and in turn, ensure that employees feel supported. Employee satisfaction surveys are key to understanding the inner workings of the workplace. They provide staff the anonymous opportunity to voice how they feel about their work environment, supervisors, and even leadership. This type of feedback creates a chance for leadership to take accountability on areas where, as an organization, they may need some work.

When it comes to implementing new policies and procedures, it is crucial to have viewpoints from every perspective. Every department of an agency sees the work of an organization from a different perspective. This should lead to creating a safe and open space where staff can come together and share ideas that bring about change in their organization.           

What It Takes to Feel Valued

In addition to employee satisfaction surveys, there are several ways to support staff in the workplace and have staff on every level feel more included. Some Ideas that agencies can try are:

  • Policies & Procedures Committee: Convening a group of staff members, usually at least one from every department, who come together and discuss the policies and procedures of an agency, with an aim towards change if needed. Staff should also consider applying a race equity lens to the application of these policies.
  • Work Culture Committee: Assembling a group of staff members that come up with various ways to show staff appreciation and recognition both in and outside of the workplace.
  • Staff Outing: Selecting a “majority rules” activity, chosen from a list of ideas provided by all staff, that takes place on a day most convenient for all staff. Board members work within the agency for the duration of the event so all staff can attend.
  • Tuition Reimbursement Program: Employers could consider a capped financial reimbursement program provided to staff that enroll in and complete college courses that improve their current job performance, as well as prepare them for advancement to other positions within the agency.
  • Annual Agency Academy Awards: Creating a ballot vote with seven categories; each category will have a winner. Staff will get to vote for the employee who they believe is most deserving to win in each category(each employee anonymously votes for seven people in total). A ceremony is held, with potluck dinner served, a host, and awards given out.
  • Quarterly Peer Recognition Award: Awarding physical trophies for staff to celebrate each other, presented at all-staff meetings with the current staff winner selecting the next winner of a different department.

While providers should pay their employees a livable wage, money isn’t the only way homeless service providers should feel valued and appreciated in their work. It’s been a tough few years, and providers should know just how important their work is to their communities. Fostering a culture of value among staff takes a few small steps, but it can make a big difference in how staff are motivated to show up to work every day.