Charity Pulse 2010: The calm is over, the storm begins

Morale is down, everyone's under pressure as job losses kick in, and bullying in the voluntary sector is increasing. Tristan Donovan reports on the findings of this year's voluntary sector staff survey

Bullied staff member
Bullied staff member

The economic crisis has finally bitten. When Third Sector and Birdsong Charity Consulting carried out the Charity Pulse survey of voluntary sector employees in 2009, there was little sign of fallout from the credit crunch. The sector was braced for bad news, it seemed, but it had escaped the worst so far.

But the results from this year's survey, which attracted responses from 672 employees in more than 160 charities, show that the surprisingly upbeat findings from last year were merely the calm before the storm.

Morale is down. Managers are under significantly greater pressure. Job losses have become a fact of life. And bullying in the voluntary sector workplace is on the rise.

The findings of the survey suggest that charities are in danger of losing their best staff, says Birdsong co-founder Frances Hurst. "Charities are now at risk of losing skilled and experienced people," she says. "Managers are under more pressure to deliver and have been less available to their staff.

"Taken with the cuts being made to training budgets, this is resulting in people feeling less supported and more likely to be looking to move to other charities or outside the sector.

"If they want to retain and motivate staff this year, managers need to be asking their people what they can do for them, rather than vice versa."

The growing evidence of bullying in the sector is something that also needs to be addressed, says Hurst. "We should be very worried about bullying, particularly given that it is increasing," she says. "Most voluntary sector staff are very committed to their work, so they are more likely to put up with unacceptable behaviour than people working in the private sector.

Trustees should ensure that charities have effective grievance procedures in place and a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying."

The survey also reinforces one of the conclusions of the State of the Sector poll published by Third Sector and nfpSynergy in January - that larger charities were the most likely to have made people redundant.

Eighty-seven per cent of staff in charities employing more than 200 people said there had been redundancies, compared with 51 per cent of those in organisations with between 51 and 200 employees. Redundancy has been less common in small charities - those with fewer than 51 staff. But employees in small charities feel most vulnerable to further cuts - 42 per cent, compared with 38 per cent in medium-sized charities and 36 per cent in large organisations.

Redundancies were more common in London, with 65 per cent of respondents in the capital reporting job losses, compared with 51 per cent beyond the M25.

Hurd says this finding is a reflection of the size of the charities based in the capital. "We find that London charities are more likely to be in the medium and big categories, so the variance could be down to size rather than location," she says.

TEN TIPS FOR MANAGERS

Frances Hurst of Birdsong offers charity leaders some advice based on Charity Pulse 2010

- Be clear about the organisation's direction

- Be open about the situation

- Don't shut yourself away - be visible and available

- You are the message. What does your attitude and behaviour say to staff?

- Involve staff in finding the solution to your organisation's problems

- Resist tightening controls - it reduces staff creativity when you need it most

- If training budgets are tight, be creative about developing staff in other ways

- Manage your own stress and that of your staff

- Remind everyone what you've achieved

- Show staff that you care

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