Job satisfaction in charities is continuing to erode, according to Feeling the Strain, the fifth Charity Pulse staff survey report conducted by Birdsong Charity Consulting and Third Sector. But the quality of management appears to be improving. John Plummer looks at the key findings
Most say pay is uncompetitive
The survey discovers increasing dissatisfaction about almost all areas of working life - but particularly about pay.
Only 49 per cent of employees think their pay is competitive with the rest of the sector - three percentage points less than last year and 13 percentage points down on 2007, shortly before the economic downturn.
Frances Hurst, the co-founder of Birdsong Charity Consulting, which received responses to the survey earlier this year from 724 people in more than 150 charities, says most of them are not motivated primarily by money. But the tough funding environment and widespread pay freezes are forcing them to take it more seriously and seek higher salaries. For some, this means looking for new jobs, and there is evidence that this is already happening: nearly a quarter of respondents - 24 per cent - say they do not plan to be working for their current charity in a year's time.
This finding chimes with a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development poll, published in May this year. It found that 23 per cent of charity staff were seeking new jobs, compared with 19 per cent in the private sector and 17 per cent in the public sector.
Hurst believes the charity jobs market has improved in recent months, particularly for fundraisers and London-based staff, and this raises the damaging prospect of high staff turnover for many charities this year.
With income expected to remain tight, charities are unlikely to be able to provide significant pay rises, but there are signs that they are trying to reward them in other ways - by better people management, for example.
The overall outlook is bleak, however. "Things are getting tougher for many charities this year," says Hurst.
Workload and work-life balance
The percentage of charity staff who think their workload is "reasonable" fell to its lowest level since the survey began five years ago.
Fifty-five per cent of respondents say they are happy with their workload. This is down three percentage points on last year and five on 2007.
Not surprisingly, this is having an effect on the proportion of employees who say they have a good work-life balance. Sixty-five per cent say their balance is good, but this is down from 67 per cent last year and 71 per cent in 2007, when the survey was conducted.
An ICM survey conducted for The Guardian in May found that 65 per cent of all staff in public, private and voluntary sectors were happy with their work-life balance. So the current figure in the voluntary sector does appear to be in line with other sectors.
'Management is improving'
One of the few bright spots in the survey is that it appears to show an improvement in the quality of management over the past 12 months. Three questions relating to treatment by managers all showed an improvement on last year, which bucks the trend in other aspects of work.
The proportion of staff receiving useful feedback on their performance increased by five percentage points; the proportion of staff who feel empowered to take decisions is up by three percentage points; and the proportion of staff praised for their work in the week before they completed the questionnaire rose from 54 per cent to 60 per cent - six percentage points.
The figures, described by Hurst as "the only glimmer of uplift" in the entire survey, suggest the quality of charity management is improving. "There are signs that managers are looking at how they can support people better," she says. "Charities aren't suddenly going to be able to start paying their staff more, but perhaps they are discovering there are other things they can do to help them."
The report refers to what the Chartered Management Institute calls the "three Ts of management" - talk, trust and thanks - and says that managers who demonstrate these qualities are more likely to make employees feel motivated, supported, included and appreciated. But not all managers are receiving the same level of support, particularly middle managers. They are the least likely to feel supported and the most likely to have reported workplace bullying in the past 12 months.
Job losses depend on charity size
More than 60 per cent of respondents reported that there had been redundancies in their organisations during the past year.
But there were considerable variations in this figure in organisations of different sizes: 71 per cent of employees in big charities - defined as having more than 200 staff - reported redundancies this year, compared with 87 per cent last year. By contrast, only 43 per cent of employees in small charities - defined as fewer than 50 staff - reported redundancies in the past 12 months. But this figure was up sharply from 30 per cent last year.
S o big charities are still more likely to be shedding staff, but the difference is narrowing. The decline in redundancies at big charities also suggests they could be over the worst of the job losses, while the increase in small charities indicates they are facing a rising tide.
Medium-sized charities with 50 to 200 staff also seem increasingly vulnerable, with 73 per cent of respondents reporting job losses, compared with 51 per cent last year.
The full Charity Pulse survey is available at www.bird-song.co.uk
2007 - the annus mirabilis
The survey shows how greatly the working environment has changed for charities in the five years since the survey was first carried out.
When it was first conducted in 2007, the economy was still buoyant and staff satisfaction was higher than now in every area, including pay, work-life balance and workload.
Satisfaction levels decreased sharply in 2008, when the economy started to worsen. Since then, they have continued to dip, but at a much lower rate, and in some cases have remained stable.
The proportion of people reporting a good work-life balance has actually increased, albeit by only one percentage point, since 2008.
This suggests the sector experienced an annus horribilis in 2008 and has so far failed to recover. "Since 2008, there has been very little good news," Hurst says.
THEY SAID IT ...
What respondents put in the comment boxes of the Charity Pulse survey:
There is a blame culture that needs to be addressed'
Some senior managers are inspiring and excellent - however, the bad ones remain in post and it affects the work and morale of managers beneath them'
People need to be held to account for poor performance'
Trustees need to have a stronger presence on the ground. No one outside of senior management knows who they are or what they do'
There needs to be much more respect and trust of employees from senior management'.