Since we posted our previous blog on the SAWA network last summer, we have received a lot of questions about our services, what we have learned, and what we plan to do next. In response, we thought we would address all those great questions in a new blog post. This way, we can explain exactly what it is we do to help shelters and share what we have learned over the past 10+ years.
Who we are
We are a team of researchers (professors, like Steven Rogelberg, PhD, and advanced PhD students) who have been studying shelters and publishing papers about animal shelter work for 15 years. We’re trained in industrial-organizational psychology, communication, management, employee health and wellness, and occupational health. We are a non-profit university entity made possible through a partnership with The HSUS and UNC Charlotte, allowing us to provide heavily grant subsidized services to shelters throughout the U.S. and Canada at a fraction of the cost typically charged. You can read more about us on our website.
What we do
We partner with shelters to identify strengths and areas for improvement in organizational health and well-being, so that shelter administrators and their staff can better fulfill their mission of caring for animals in need. Our outreach work is grounded in partnership and collaboration, meaning that we view you as an equal “expert contributor” in helping to make sense of the inner workings of your shelter. Our process is fairly straightforward. First, we discuss each shelter with their leadership. Then, we customize aspects our Shelter Employee Engagement & Development Survey to meet specific shelter needs. We then partner with shelter administration to deliver the survey entirely online – the survey takes about 10 minutes to complete, and data collection usually takes about 2 weeks.
Then, we take everything that we learn from the survey—what a shelter is doing well, what a shelter could be doing better, and everything in-between—and then build it into a comprehensive report that considers each shelter in the context of other shelters its size (# of staff). At this point, we discuss the report with shelter leadership, step-by-step, to make sense of what these findings mean. We work together to generate action plans and ensure each shelter has the right resources to move forward.
What we have learned
Not surprisingly, burnout and stress (sometimes called “compassion fatigue”) are important issues for shelters. Burnout is especially common among caregivers, including people who care for animals, and stress tends to make an appearance wherever resources, time, and/or support feel strained. These are real challenges that even the biggest, healthiest shelters face, and the employees often bear this burden silently. To help address this ongoing issue, we recently expanded our assessment around burnout and stress.
The antithesis of burnout, engagement, characterized by a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind, also matters a great deal for shelter staff well-being. Engaged employees are happy, dedicated, and energetic – they do their jobs better. Similarly, commitment to the job and to the organization are important markers of employee retention and organizational success – so we assess them too. There are real options available to engage people with their work, and the benefits are numerous. For example, recognition is a simple, straightforward way to reward employees, and our experience shows that employees in shelters everywhere are craving some sort of recognition for the hard work they do. Recognition programs show employees that their contributions and they themselves are valued—and feeling valued is a great precursor to healthy workplace attitudes like engagement, commitment, and job satisfaction.
Another thing we’ve learned is that there are no “one size fits all” solutions for shelters: unique differences exist among shelters of various sizes. So, we developed “norms” to separate shelters by size—small (<30 staff), medium (30-80 staff), and large (80+ staff). With this information, we can look at how a shelter like yours is performing in comparison to other shelters of similar size. These norms allow us to quickly identify areas where shelters have room for improvement, and areas where shelters are doing well.
Why engagement surveys matter
As we mentioned, engaged employees are dedicated to their work. Engagement is key to a happy, healthy workforce. Engaged employees perform better, feel better about their work, are less likely to quit, encourage others, come up with unique solutions to problems, and go above and beyond the call of duty. A sense of engagement on the job is part of what keeps employees looking forward to coming in to work, and it’s one of the best defenses against burnout.
Engagement is more than just happiness or satisfaction, and it may not be easy to simply observe in your employees. Its benefits are numerous, and engagement is a key ingredient in the recipe for healthy shelters. Whether you’re a shelter or other organization, engagement should be on your mind. Knowing where your employees stand and how they feel is step one to engaging them. And engagement surveys are great, powerful tools for helping to bring out the best in a shelter.
You can contact us, visit our website, or read about past clients, which include public, private, large, and small shelters. Our goal is simple: to help those that help animals. Reach out any time for free resources, information, or ideas.