Focus: People Management - Human Resources - Staff retention better at small charities

Graham Willgoss, graham.willgoss@haynet.com

Study shows that smaller organisations foster a greater sense of belonging.

Staff turnover is higher in larger charities, according to the latest HR benchmarking study for the voluntary sector.

Agenda Consulting's People Count 2006, due to be published in September, shows that the median employee turnover for charities employing less than 100 people is 18.2 per cent. The ratio for organisations employing between 251 and 500 people is 21.5 per cent, whereas for those with more than 1,000 staff it is 23.2 per cent.

"In larger organisations, employees can feel like just another cog in the wheel," said Elspeth Watt, director of HR consultancy Calibre. "If staff know the people who run the organisation and get to know the trustees and decision-makers, they feel much more part of what goes on."

She said the sense of belonging to an organisation can make a huge difference to staff turnover - particularly with younger employees - and that smaller charities were more likely to be able to achieve this.

"Large organisations can get it right, but it's just more difficult for them," said Watt. "Smaller charities can be a little more flexible and adaptable and, above all, people feel as if they have some degree of control over what happens to them."

Meanwhile, a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reveals that staff turnover in the voluntary sector is higher than the national average across all sectors.

The institute's latest recruitment, retention and turnover survey, which was released in June, shows that the median employee turnover rate for not-for-profit organisations in 2005 was 18.9 per cent, compared with a national average of 18.3 per cent. The private sector continues to experience the highest levels of turnover (22.9 per cent), with the public sector lowest at 13.3 per cent.

The figures, which were based on the responses received from 804 organisations, were calculated as the total number of employees who left in the year as a percentage of the average number of employees in the year.

"It's less to do with job satisfaction and more to do with pay and, perhaps in some areas, a degree of exploitation where staff are asked for more," said Watt. "It's swings and roundabouts - some charities have a very high turnover, but others have a very stable workforce. It's basically about people feeling valued by the organisation - if they're not, then they will move on.

"Surprisingly, the people we deal with often come from other charities.

They haven't been switched off by the charitable environment - just the organisation they're moving from."

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