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Slowing the Revolving Door: Strategies for Improving Staff Retention, Part 2

Maybe your staff already understand their job descriptions, receive sufficient feedback, and feel appreciated for the work they perform; maybe the lines of communication are open and staff input is welcomed. If so, congratulations! All of those things go a long way toward keeping good people around. But efforts to curb staff turnover, especially in the animal care and control field, should also involve providing training and room for growth. This second article in a two-part series examines support systems for staff and explores ideas for helping employees advance their careers.

At the Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Lynnwood, Washington, the writing is on the wall: Respect and trust one another, it says. Communicate. Seek to understand. Seemingly simple platitudes, but not ones the organization takes lightly. The “workplace culture agreement,” posted in the shelter and also highlighted in employee and volunteer manuals, outlines steps toward achieving a healthy, supportive environment. “We are drawn to work at PAWS because of its mission to advocate for animals,” the introduction reads. “And while we spend our lives together doing this work, we can choose to create a humane and healthy workplace for ourselves.”

The agreement includes suggestions like “Respect others’ response to emotions—help them find creative and appropriate outlets to express their feelings.” It also includes more specific, concrete advice: “If you must interrupt someone, give them a chance to say if it’s a good time or not, and schedule a later time if need be.”

Just as important as courtesy and respect is social support from coworkers. “Healthy shelters have a more supportive work environment,” says Steven Rogelberg, PhD, associate professor and director of the industrial organizational psychology program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “There’s good coworker support, and probably even more importantly, there’s supervisory support. Support has been a really key factor in understanding employee attitudes.”

When Rogelberg and his UNC colleague, Charlie Reeve, PhD, asked hundreds of shelter employees across the country what recommendations they’d offer newcomers to the field, a common suggestion was to find social support, Rogelberg says.

Backing from colleagues can help lessen the pain of disparaging or ignorant comments that people outside the field often make. Even loved ones can be a source of stress when they don’t understand what their friend or family member does at the shelter. In such situations, the sense of support a shelter staffer gets from her colleagues can do wonders.

 Read the full feature story.


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