How to Overcome Disruptions Caused by the Great Resignation

CiprianiKovalickGallagher_how_to_overcome_disruptions_caused_by_the_great_resignation May 18, 2022 By: Colleen Gallagher, Cammie Kovalick, and Matt Cipriani

With many job opportunities out there, even great associations are losing staff these days. Here’s a look at some of the negative impacts the high turnover is having and some best practices your association can use to help continue operating smoothly, even if staff leave.

The Great Resignation is real, and associations are feeling it. The ASAE Communication Professionals Advisory Council recently surveyed nearly 70 professionals at associations of all sizes and found that they are not only experiencing it, but they also were not prepared for it. Rather than just accepting the negative impacts resignations cause to operations and staff, we have identified some simple steps that association leaders can take to minimize the pain.

How Resignations Impact Associations

Business continuity. It’s no secret that employee turnover can disrupt business continuity. Let’s say your membership director walks out the door after five years on the job. If you don’t have a system in place to capture their institutional knowledge, along with what they do on a day-to-day basis, your membership operations could grind to a halt while remaining team members jump in to pick up the slack as you recruit someone new. 

This illustrates the problem a single resignation can cause, but what about when you’re dealing with multiple employees leaving at the same time? In our survey, 87 percent of association professionals reported having experienced staff resignations since January 2021, and of that group, 38 percent reported five or more staff resignations at their association. 

Having no plan leaves current staff to pick up the pieces, learn new systems, and take on additional responsibilities to continue meeting member needs.

Process and procedure. As the Great Resignation continues, the lack of documented processes and procedures at many associations is cause for alarm. Only 16 percent of association professionals report having a written plan in place to ensure knowledge is captured from departing staff. In addition, 25 percent do not have a plan and typically don’t capture any of the knowledge as staff move on. 

Staff burnout. Having no plan leaves current staff, many of whom have already felt overextended and overworked, to pick up the pieces, learn new systems, and take on additional responsibilities to continue meeting member needs. Staff burnout was almost universal at associations that experienced resignations over the last year, with 95 percent reporting they were experiencing burnout or feeling overwhelmed because of staff shortages. 

Best Practices to Deal with Turnover

While those stats paint a bleak picture for associations, that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some ways your already thinly stretched teams can reduce the impact of staff resignations:

Document processes. From a business-continuity perspective, documenting processes is a critical step. Make creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) an organizational priority. Staff often feel pressure to take time away from their day-to-day tasks to document processes, so drafting SOPs often gets put on the back burner. However, drafting SOPs is one task that can help associations better endure turnover.

Bonus step: While documenting, challenge staff to identify efficiencies and cost savings.

Save staff time. Since staff are overwhelmed, change your thinking around meetings:

  1. If there is no purpose or agenda, there should be no meeting.
  2. Not every staff person has to be there.
  3. Limit invites to those who need to be there and empower them to inform others.
  4. For brainstorming-type meetings, consider online tools that can be utilized outside of a traditional meeting, such as IdeaBoardz, Padlet, and Slack.

Bonus step: Challenge your team to be efficient and keep meeting time to 30 minutes or less.

Acknowledge staff burnout. Leaders who face this head-on, demonstrating empathy and providing solutions, have the potential to gain or improve staff loyalty and, by extension, workplace culture. Communication is key: Be as authentic and transparent as possible. Outline ways to decrease workload for staff and present the plan to all staff allowing for a more transparent environment.

Bonus step: Challenge your leadership team to prioritize organizational efforts and to communicate them so staff have clear direction.

Put it All Together

Resignations across almost all sectors of the American workforce are on the rise. This includes nonprofits that in many cases have smaller staff and budgets when compared to for-profit corporations. By prioritizing staff, you can address business continuity and, in the process, create a culture of well-being and transparency that could result in fewer resignations in the long run.

Colleen Gallagher

Colleen Gallagher is founding partner at OnWrd & UpWrd in Alexandria, Virginia, and a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council.

Cammie Kovalick

Cammie Kovalick is assistant vice president, business excellence, at the National Apartment Association in Arlington, Virginia, and a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council.

Matt Cipriani

Matt Cipriani is associate director, knowledge management and member engagement, at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy in Arlington, Virginia, and a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council.