A job in homeless services means working with people with life-threatening medical conditions as well as mental health, trauma, and substance abuse problems. It means working in non-traditional settings that may sometimes feel unsafe. It might mean witnessing violence, dealing with injuries, or drug overdoses. Stress and compassion fatigue are routine occupational hazards. Frustration is a daily reality as workers look for help from other public assistance programs, each with its own rules and barriers to entry. An added burden is the stigma and negative public attitudes that typically surround people who are homeless.
In this environment, how do homeless service organizations find and keep the right people? The HRC offers some best practices to help you recruit and retain the best people for the job:
- Expand recruitment sources. Involve experienced workers, sponsor internships, and consider recruiting retired workers. Also use web-based recruitment sites such as monster.com, careerbuilder.com, jobs.net, idealist.org, Ihiresocialservices.com, and socialworker.org.
- Recruit a more diverse workforce. Create partnerships with diverse organizations, including affinity groups, such as African American and Latino Professionals, the Black Social Workers Association and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Task Forces. Hire consumers in peer support, outreach and other roles.
- Use realistic job previews (RJP). Never heard of an RJP? Designed to reduce misperceptions and unrealistic expectations, an RJP provides a realistic picture of the job before the applicant accepts the offer. RJPs can be delivered in various ways including job shadowing, written materials, oral presentations, or videos.
- Offer competitive wages. If exit interviews and other information sources (e.g. wage surveys from the Department of Labor, professional associations and personal networks) suggest that wages in your agency are no longer competitive, adjustments are critical. Consider reducing employee headcounts in order to pay higher salaries to fewer workers. They may reward the agency with greater productivity.
- Improve benefits. Studies of direct services workforces have found strong links between the quality and cost of health insurance benefits and worker retention. Subsidizing part or all of the cost of health insurance premiums, offering low cost mini-medical plans, and helping to enroll employees in available state-sponsored plans are ways to improve health care coverage for your employees.
- Offer flexible work schedules. Flexibility is especially valued by employees with childcare responsibilities.
- Welcome, orient, socialize, and mentor new employees. Introduce new employees to policies, procedures and values. Assign new recruits to a peer support individual or group.
- Promote wellness, self-care and burnout prevention among your staff.
- Schedule regular staff retreats designed to celebrate, build commitment, release tension and build skills.
- Hold critical incident debriefings following difficult events.
- Celebrate team birthdays, sobriety anniversaries, and arrange team social outings and monthly meetings focused on self-care.
- Emphasize the importance of self-care in mission statements and policies and procedures.
- Make sure employees have consistently scheduled days off and lunch breaks, and discourage overtime.
- Consider using Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) to give everyone opportunities for self-expression in decision-making using.
- Allow employees to attend conferences, charitable events, and provide opportunities for learning new intervention tools.
- Provide competency-based training and career development opportunities. Gallup poll data suggest that lack of career advancement is the single most common reason that employees leave their jobs.
- Improve leadership and management capacity to create a supportive organizational culture.
- Foster a culture of respect and empowerment. Hold 360 degree performance evaluations for all positions. Solicit staff input in strategic planning and policy. Involve staff in trade and professional associations as well as in-house leadership councils.
- Build a sense of community. Organize staff into formal teams around projects or issues, or informal teams to build relationships.
- Establish a culture of recognition. There are many ways to acknowledge outstanding service: a hall of fame picture wall, an employee honor roll, or service awards. What matters is not the award itself but giving employees visible, public recognition for exemplary service.
- Develop the leadership and management skills of program administrators. Dissatisfaction with management ranks high among reasons why people leave their jobs. Executive coaching, 360 assessments, and leadership training are strategies for improving leadership and management capacity.
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