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What’s the Diagnosis?

New evaluation program aims to help shelters improve staff retention and morale

New evaluation program aims to help shelters improve staff retention and morale

Most people in the animal care, control, and sheltering field know that euthanasia and other workplace stressors lead to high staff turnover. And effective leaders recognize the conventional wisdom that a workplace is only as good as the people within it—and that taking care of staff is therefore critical to a functioning organization.

Learning to capitalize on people power is what the Shelter Diagnostic System (SDS) is all about. Created through an ongoing partnership between the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and The Humane Society of the United States, the SDS is an assessment tool involving employee surveys and results-based recommendations for improving staff morale and retention.

The SDS does not address logistical aspects of organizations such as standard operating procedures or policies; instead it’s designed to analyze employee attitudes, perceptions, and opinions on key issues related to organizational health and well-being. Topics include communications effectiveness, supervisory style, teamwork, peer support, euthanasia practices, morale, trust, and the stress of handson work in a shelter environment.

The SDS was developed by a team of professors who’ve been investigating shelter workplace issues since 2001. To create the system, they relied on the results of their own research as well as expertise from both the sheltering and industrialorganizational psychology fields.

Designed with the busy shelter environment in mind, the diagnostic process starts with an initial phone conversation to help determine the suitability of SDS for a given organization. If the program appears to be a good fit, employees will be asked to complete brief surveys and send them directly back to the university.

Researchers will use the survey responses to determine what the organization in question is doing well and where improvements can be made. The resulting report will prioritize action steps for areas identified as most in need of attention. A feedback guide, which will usually be mailed within two or three months of survey distribution, will help the organization implement the prescribed action steps and will include specific suggestions that other organizations have found effective.

But the SDS process doesn’t stop with the written report. A trained professional from UNC Charlotte will be available to answer questions about results. In addition, the SDS can be used more than once; ideally, the process should be repeated every 12 to 18 months so shelters can monitor progress and identify potential growth areas.

Confidentiality is assured. Participants and organizations do not see one another’s data or results, and no one outside the university research team will see them either. And the system is designed to protect the anonymity of respondents by requiring that participating organizations have at least 10 part- or full-time employees.

Participation in the Shelter Diagnostic System will not only benefit individual organizations but also enhance the pool of national data being collected to further study shelter workplace issues. Eventually, SDS participants will be able to use the system to compare themselves to similar agencies.

The HSUS provided a grant to UNC Charlotte researchers for design and development of the SDS; the grant will also subsidize and underwrite the program for shelters. A fee-based service, the SDS will generate just enough revenue to cover expenses, fund future research, and pay for continued development of the system.

The price tag for participating shelters is minimal; for example, expected costs for a shelter with about 25 employees could run from $350 to $450. For an organization with 100 employees, the figure would increase to $900 to $1,200. These prices are a fraction of market value; private consulting companies charge $4,000 to $8,000 for comparable services.

To learn more about the program or to schedule an assessment for your organization, contact UNC Charlotte researchers Steven Rogelberg, PhD, and Charlie Reeve, PhD, at 704-687- 4742 or Or contact Animal Sheltering Issues for The HSUS, at 301-258-3177 or


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