High staff turnover besets sector

The average charity has to recruit one quarter of its staff each year, according to the largest-ever study of the voluntary sector's human resources practices.

Staff turnover in charities stands at 22 per cent, compared to 15 per cent in the private and public sectors, the survey of 117 charities found. And charity workers stay for an average of just two and a half years in one job, in contrast to five years for the private sector and six years for the public sector.

But the study, conducted by Agenda Consulting and the Charities HR Network among charities with more than 100 paid workers, found evidence of growing professionalism in the sector as well as problems with staff retention.

Four out five employees in the sector have a regular appraisal and absence rates for managers are lower in charities than in commercial or statutory organisations.

Voluntary sector managers have a lower turnover rate, of 13 per cent, than operational and service staff, a quarter of whom change jobs each year.

Turnover is 25 per cent in the disability sector, 23 per cent in the health sector and 18 per cent in 'children, young people and family' charities.

David Ellis, chief executive of Cancer and Leukaemia In Childhood, warned against generalising about a sector-wide staff retention problem: "There will be differences according to function. Turnover in fundraising will be high, but in admin and finance it will be lower. That is inevitable and healthy," he said.

"But there are issues we need to look at. At Clic we use a third-party organisation to benchmark our salaries so they keep up with the rest of the sector.

"The working environment also has an impact. A young charity just starting out might have their premises donated. It might be in a residential property, or in the wrong location."

The survey also showed that formal warnings, grievances and employment tribunals in the voluntary sector are lower than in other sectors. Some 58 per cent of managers are female and 48 per cent of respondents recognise a trade union.

According to Roger Parry, director of Agenda Consulting, HR benchmarking clubs are being set up to help voluntary organisations that participated in the survey to share good practice. "Voluntary organisations can use this information to pinpoint strengths and areas for development, link to other participants to share examples of good practice and formulate strategies for development."

Sonia Higgs, chair of the Charities HR Network, said the survey showed that HR directors were taking forward the recommendation of the Strategy Unit report to pilot benchmarking in specific sub-sectors of the voluntary sector.

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