Addressing talent issues starts with listening

Recruiting and retaining staff these days is not for the faint of heart. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, The City Mission had over 20 percent of its staff positions open, contributing to even higher turnover and burnout for many employees. Even during this trying time, it was important for the Mission to find a way to retain its staff while adhering to its mission to serve those struggling with homelessness and crisis in Cleveland.

When I became CEO of The City Mission in 2021, the effects of staff turnover and low retention were still prevalent. With the help of the Mission’s leadership team, I began to brainstorm ways to attract, recruit and retain employees while staying true to the organization’s mission. I found that this came through listening, learning and loving my staff members.

As a new CEO, my first step in this process was to listen. During my first few months in this role, I worked with my leadership team to have third-party organizations survey staff to get a better idea of any shortfalls or issues they experienced while working at the Mission. This led to surveys conducted by both CultureShoc and the Best Christian Workplace Institute, which helped us better understand staff members’ experiences, preferences, praises and critiques while formulating a retention plan. After studying our employee survey results, the Mission began to move forward with initiatives related to staff feedback, including participating in six months of DEI training through the Cleveland Leadership Center, reworking insurance benefits and paid time off and adjusting salaries.

After this initial step of listening, I decided to do all I could to learn more about the employees of The City Mission. I held a series of listening sessions, which involved meetings with individuals or small groups of staff to discuss the intricacies, struggles and highlights of each role. Through these sessions, I learned more about the details of each role as well as the lives of the people who filled each role. This experience was so meaningful  that I repeated the listening sessions in 2023.

After spending time listening and learning, I began realizing the importance of loving my staff members. This included remembering conversations, taking thoughts and opinions into consideration, and recognizing their lives outside of employment. Loving my staff also led to the creation of a specific role dedicated to staff wellness.

This plan — listen, learn, love — has made a big difference in attracting, recruiting, and retaining staff. In 2021, I dreamed of having less than 10 percent turnover within program staff. With much persistence, this goal was met in 2023. In addition to this success, I now feel that every staff member has opportunities to be heard and valued, which has contributed to the health of the organization, our employees and the residents we serve each day.

Although we have seen some success, our work in this realm is still developing. After tackling it for the past two years, I would encourage other organizations struggling with similar issues to stay committed — retention does not happen overnight. True authenticity, clear communication and a supportive community are vital to creating a safe, productive and enjoyable workplace for your staff.

Over the past 20 years, Linda Uveges has served in a variety of roles at The City Mission, becoming CEO in 2021. 

Linda Uveges



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