It’s the end of the school year. For some that means long, carefree summer days. For school administrators though it means grappling with resignations, retirements, transfers, and general staffing uncertainty while trying to plan for the upcoming school year. It’s around this time that we often hear from our partners about regrettable staff turnover and the sense of having missed some opportunities for more effective retention activities. Part of the issue school systems face when it comes to retention activities is that they operate in an environment that demands more while offering fewer resources – it’s simply hard to find the time until it’s too late. Another part of the issue is historical – retention activities like appreciation nights or manager conversations typically come at the conclusion of the school year. While these are important ways to signal value to staff, they can often come too late in the school year to meaningfully influence decisions.
Despite resource and historical constraints, there are opportunities for administrators to proactively improve retention efforts, starting with the mindset that retention starts at “Day Zero”. Rather than something done at the end of the year, retention starts before the school year starts and even before someone is hired.
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) identifies a number of key areas that organizations can invest in to improve retention goals, including:
Training and development
Compensation and rewards
Certainly, areas like compensation and rewards are hard to adapt to the education context – sure, some systems can get creative with compensation or rewards, but this strategy is unavailable to most. And at first glance, creating new programs might seem overwhelming. But if you step back and think about the broad range of programs and initiatives that are likely already in place you might be surprised by the range of subtle tweaks or low lift actions you can take that could have an outsized impact.
Here are some tips to get started:
Chances are you already have job descriptions that outline essential tasks and responsibilities. Take the time to make sure you’ve included key information about your school or school system in the job description and recruitment approaches. Asking a few teachers why they come to work each day, or to describe their school or classroom, is a great way to share what it’s like to work in your organization. If you distribute guidance to your interviewers, include a section that asks them to discuss what it would be like to work in the position or role. As SHRM notes, “presenting applicants with a realistic job preview during the recruitment process has a positive effect on retention of those new hires”.
Onboarding, particularly in larger school systems, is often an operational exercise focused on making sure individuals are enrolled in payroll and benefits and have access to critical employee systems. Providing guidance to schools around how to structure and facilitate formal and informal activities to welcome and integrate new staff can build on initiatives that may already be taking place and take your onboarding beyond purely operations and logistics to cultural and relationship building.
You can also consider creating a low-lift micro mentoring or “buddy” program centered on having existing staff welcome new employees to the school system and help them navigate their new surroundings. Programs like this are a win-win when it comes to retention, as existing employees also benefit from recognition and engagement.
Training and Development
School systems typically offer a wide variety of professional training and development opportunities. What is equally true is that sometimes the sheer breadth and variety of what is offered presents communication challenges. Working with your academic team to comprehensively communicate offerings at strategic points throughout the year (e.g. beginning of each quarter and previewing what will come the following year) can improve transparency, accessibility, and employee satisfaction. Also, consider creating a simple survey to ask staff what kinds of opportunities they would want to take advantage of -- just don’t wait until the end of the year to distribute. If you give yourself enough time to review the results, you can communicate your intentions to act on their suggestions and potentially influence their retention.
With the school year wrapping up, now is the perfect time to lay the foundations for stronger retention by planning some simple “Day Zero” retention activities! If you’d like assistance in developing or executing your strategy, to learn about more ways to improve retention or the tools we offer to support your work contact us here!