Before joining the faculty at Western Seminary in 2009, I worked for a technology company that was (and is) consistently named by FORTUNE magazine as one of the best companies to work for in America. In fact, the year I quit the company was the number one best company to work for. They deserved the title. They paid well and they provided more perks, benefits, and support anyone could imagine. My favorite was M&M’s Wednesdays, when five pounds of M&M’s were delivered to each break room. Yum. Other employees preferred perks such as the onsite daycare, car wash service, gym, ultimate Frisbee fields, barbershop, and a splendid retirement plan.
But I quit. When I left, our Human Resources VP asked a very pointed question: “Why?”
Why did I quit my job? And why do people leave jobs all the time? Even when the economy was at its worst and jobs are hard to come by, 30 million Americans quit every year. Why?
A huge myth is that people quit one job in order to earn more money elsewhere. While some people do that, they are in the minority. Most people choose to leave a job not because of profit, but because of purpose and people. Let’s define those terms:
Profit – the financial or other tangible rewards a job provides. Profit includes the basics such as salary and bonuses, but also perks and benefits from healthcare to snacks to ping pong tables.
Purpose – the meaning that comes from working. Purpose includes the feeling of being productive, the sense of accomplishment, and the notion that I am working for something bigger than myself.
People – those who surround me at work. Work is a social endeavor and one’s supervisor and peers are incredibly important in determining job satisfaction and tenure. People also contribute to the culture of a workplace.
For a job to be a good fit long-term, all three of these elements need to be in place, but profit is the least important. A job needs to pay enough, but only in rare cases will more and more profit overcome a deficiency in the purpose and people elements. By the way, you don’t want employees who only stay because of the paycheck and you don’t want to be that kind of employee either.
How does all of this impact those of us who work in ministry? If you work for a church or other type of ministry and if you have a hand in hiring and firing people, here are six things to consider:
- Purpose is not a gimme. Just because you are a church does not mean your employees (from pastor to custodian) will automatically have their purpose needs met. Purpose needs to be clearly defined in terms of mission and vision and it needs to permeate every aspect of an employee’s work. Also, too many churches seem to exist just in order to grow (and to boost the ego of those in leadership), which does not translate into a meaningful purpose for other employees or key volunteers.
- You still have to pay. Purpose and people will not feed your employee’s family or send kids to college. Ministers make lots of sacrifices in order to serve in churches and on missions, but they still need to be paid a living wage. While a handful of overpaid celebrity pastors grab the headlines, most pastors are paid wages that allow them to barely get by. Research shows that financial worries and the resulting stress reduce as families reach about $75,000 annual income. Providing enough pay for your pastor to make it will increase the quality of work and the length of tenure.
- Pay attention to your people. Most of the ministers I know who are ready to quit are fed up with their co-workers – usually an overbearing or absent boss, a dysfunctional board of elders, or a culture of scarcity and negativity. If you want your employees to stay and to contribute at a high level, surround them with good people who show up in positive ways.
- Recognize the cost of turnover. No company on FORTUNE’s list of best companies to work for is there because of a deep concern for human welfare and flourishing so much as a concern for the bottom line. Attracting top talent is competitive and employee turnover is costly. For churches, turnover costs money and it costs momentum. So it makes sense to hire people who are good fit and to put just as much effort into keeping them as to getting them.
- Purpose has a second layer. People need an alignment between their personal goals and values and the organization’s; this is the first layer of purpose. The second layer concerns strengths and skills. Each person was designed to contribute in a unique way that allows him or her to express natural strengths and developed skills. To keep employees means you have to keep them engaged. You have to allow them to use (and increase) their skills in challenging ways.
- Everyone is an employer, so act like it. In a church, practically every member is an employer because each person contributes to the overall workplace environment. Since the number one reason people quit is because of the people, it’s every member’s job to make church a great place to work.
What do you think? What bad (or great) employment practices have you seen from churches? Who do you know who’s quit? Why did they quit?