Prepare Your Staff For Their Future Careers. {Guest Post}

I’m excited to bring you the first guest post in the Burnout Blog Series, exploring the importance of preparing your staff (and yourself!) for their next career move. Written by Katie Kapczynski, Visitor Services Manager at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, originally published here. You can connect with Katie on LinkedIn here.

Katie Kapczynski

In the last few months we (collectively, I think it’s probably not an exaggeration to say all industries all over the planet) have seen strange things going on in the job market. For the cultural sector specifically, the pandemic brought with it many furloughs and terminations and now as we see museums reopening and tourism picking up again, suddenly there’s a great need everywhere for more staff. Jobs are re-emerging, but where have all the workers gone?

Recently I waited for over 3 hours, with the obnoxious soft jazz hold music on speaker, for a Delta customer service representative. Once I finally got one on the phone I asked when would be a better time to call. “What about 1am?” He told me that they were so short staffed, it didn’t matter the time, I would always have a long wait. I see “help wanted” signs in fast food restaurant windows all over the city. Emails to vendors go days without a response, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because they have a staffing shortage. This Spring our Security department set up 11 virtual interviews. One candidate showed up, the other 10 were no-shows. For a virtual interview where you don’t even need to leave your house. Crazy.

The problem of being short staffed is only getting intensified by a new trend of current staff submitting their resignations after finding new opportunities. There are just so many jobs available right now, and with less competition, a good employee with an interest in upward mobility and advancement has great potential to be scooped up by someone else.

So, what do we do about it? What can we do, and is it too late?

I recently had an employee approach me after a morning meeting to notify me that they were submitting their resignation. I acted like a child and pretended I didn’t hear it. No, really. I put my hands to my ears and said “I don’t hear you.” And then, after my temper tantrum was over, I asked about their next steps and congratulated them. To be honest, I was a bit blindsided, and probably naïve, to think that they in particular weren’t leaving any time soon. They’re young, reliable, hard-working–why wouldn’t they be looking for their next career move?

Photo by Julien L on Unsplash

And if I’m being fully transparent, I’m partly responsible for pushing them into it. Insert face palm emoji here.

You see, at the start of the pandemic when we had to move our frontline staff to administrative roles in order to keep them employed and receiving a paycheck, I was doing daily trainings and presentations on all kinds of topics. We covered Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion. We talked about customer service at great length, and I even had them do presentations on the power of positive thinking. It was a long few weeks, so you name it–we covered it. Also during that time I spent several days just on career advancement doing mock interviews with the team, pairing them with colleagues, and reviewing and editing their cover letters and resumes. I was preparing them for their next job.

Photo by João Ferrão on Unsplash

That wasn’t the first time. I actually try to do career development work on an annual basis with my staff. Why would their current employer be preparing them for their future employment? Because I know that Visitor Services is a stepping stone for most people–a temporary, and often considered entry-level, role. I know that Visitor Services in a museum is not a career move for most. And yes, maybe some, a few, will end up staying in museums and move into other roles, like Museum Educator, Collections Assistant, or Visitor Services Manager. And I love that. I love to move Visitor Services staff upwards in the museum to other roles, because I think that Visitor Services staff have the best understanding of visitors’ needs and expectations and can bring that understanding to other roles–thus moving everyone towards becoming a more inclusive, community-focused museum. But if they don’t move up in the museum world, then my role, for the time that I have them, can be to help prepare them for whatever comes next in their career. And then, to be happy for them when that opportunity surfaces.

So, what can we do about losing our good staff?

We can prepare them for their future careers, but also know when to fight to keep the good ones if they can make a career with us. First, we can be happy for them for taking on a new and exciting opportunity. I was happy for my colleague that told me they were resigning because this next step had great growth potential for them. But I was also sad for us. On a personal level, I liked working with them. On a professional level, it meant months of interviewing, hiring, and training.

After thinking on it for half a day, I was reminded of when a friend of mine from another department resigned and I asked him if the museum fought to keep him. I was disappointed when he said “no,” because I wanted to believe that the museum recognized good staff and would fight to keep them. Thus, I wasn’t ready to throw up the white flag yet. I met with my employee at the end of the day and asked what it would take to keep them. I left it open-ended, and asked them to think about it. If it was more money, then how much? If it was a title promotion or more paid time off, what would that look like? I wasn’t even sure if I could meet these requests, but I could hear them out, and I could bring them to my supervisor.

The second thing we can do when provided a resignation is to try to advocate to keep our good staff around. Hearing their terms and the details of the new position they’re accepting can only inform me about the competition and even highlight some areas for improvement. If you had this conversation with everyone that left throughout the course of a year, and each of them said “I’m being offered a higher salary,” then maybe you need to consider raising salaries to a more locally competitive rate. You may start to see trends in the reasons staff are leaving, and that information can be really useful for keeping existing staff happy and future staff from leaving.

Ultimately I was able to offer a slight pay increase to try to keep that person around, but in the end they decided that the other opportunity was a better one for them. And that’s okay.

Lastly, if you fight for that good employee, but don’t win, send them out into the world on a positive note. I am terrible at remembering special occasions like birthdays or work anniversaries. I love planning team bonding activities, and having staff potluck parties, but if there’s a deadline for something, like a date-specific event, I’m awful at remembering it. But what I do always prioritize is a going-away party. I want to make sure that they go out on a high note as a thank you for the work that they’ve done, acknowledging that they’ll be missed. Then, I remind them to come back to visit. I’ve had staff that visit me years later, and come back to update me on what’s going on in their life and their new careers. I’ve even had staff return to say “I wish I knew how good I had it then.” So, give them a good send-off. You never know what will come of it. The museum world is small, so if they stay within the cultural sector, it’s very likely your paths will cross again down the road. And, even if they don’t, you’ve supported their career growth and released a better employee into the world. I choose to believe there’s good karma in that.

Cover Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Published by Ellen Spangler

Hi, I’m Ellen Spangler. With nearly twenty years in nonprofits, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. My first love will always be museums, but I have also cherished my work in education and membership organizations. I’ve worked as a Development Director, Communications Director, Educator, Trainer and Project Manager, and now own and operate a consulting business, Three Notch’d Nonprofit Solutions.

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