It’s Monday morning. Your alarm just went off, signaling the start of another work week. How do you feel as you get out of bed? Are you dreading having to interact with your supervisor? Or do you feel pretty good about getting up and starting a new week?
The answers to these questions matter. Adults in the United States spend the majority of their waking hours working. That seems to be even truer today as a recent survey of this country’s workers shows that Americans are less likely to be using all of their vacation time. How people feel about their jobs has been shown to be related to their health, their performance at work, and the way that the public experiences interacting with organizations. There is no reason to think these same connections, including the link between job satisfaction and job performance, don’t exist at foundations. When you think about all the ways that your level of job satisfaction affects your life—and the lives of those around you—it seems worth focusing some time on understanding what makes people satisfied in their jobs.
What about when it comes to people who work at foundations? You might think, ‘who wouldn’t be satisfied working at a foundation?’ Some working in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors see foundation work as a dream job. Foundation jobs are often romanticized as being easy and lucrative. People who work at foundations give away money—what could be unsatisfying about that?
Having researched foundations for years, we at CEP know that foundation staff members face challenges similar to those in any other area of work. We wanted to understand how satisfied foundation employees are with their jobs and what best predicts how satisfied they are. In a new report we are releasing today, entitled Employee Empowerment: The Key to Foundation Staff Satisfaction, we share analyses of data from 31 foundations (almost all of which are in the United States) that commissioned a Staff Perception Report from CEP between 2007 and 2011.
The data, from over 1,000 foundation employees, indicate that on average, foundation staff members are satisfied with their jobs. However, comparing our findings to findings from other U.S. surveys of job satisfaction (which is admittedly difficult because questions are asked differently across these surveys), it seems that foundation staff aren’t any more satisfied than the typical U.S. worker.
Just like in any domain of work, there is a range of satisfaction among foundation employees. Why is that?
Our research indicates that the strongest predictor of how satisfied foundation staff are with their jobs is not what they are paid or how they see their workload: it’s how empowered they feel.
What do we mean by empowerment? Foundation staff members who feel empowered thoroughly understand their roles and responsibilities. They feel that they have an appropriate level of authority to make decisions that affect their work. They feel they have opportunities to learn and grow at work. And they feel they are treated with respect by other staff.
When we sought to understand through our data what can be done to increase the empowerment of foundation employees, it mainly comes down to the choices that foundation leaders make. People feel more empowered when leaders communicate clearly where the foundation is heading, ensure that all staff and board members are working toward the same goals, truly care about the people who work at the foundations they lead, and provide useful—rather than perfunctory—performance reviews.
This is easier said than done. Having analyzed the quantitative data with my colleagues, and having personally read through several hundred qualitative responses we collected through our SPR surveys, it is quite clear that not all foundation employees feel empowered. And not all employers care about how empowered employees feel.
If the performance of foundation staff has the potential to impact progress on important issues, then how satisfied foundations staff are in their jobs should be of utmost concern to foundation leaders. Foundation leaders who overlook or deprioritize employee empowerment do so at their own peril. As one staff member wrote in our survey, “Overall, staff members, myself included, think the CEO has no interest in the staff and doesn’t care if they leave the foundation.”
In the coming weeks, we will have leaders from the field blogging here to provide their perspective on the topics of foundation staffs’ satisfaction and empowerment. As always, we welcome comments to these posts to further the conversation.