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How did the Jewish Workplace Fare During COVID? Leading Edge Releases 2021 Employee Experience Survey Findings

by Leading Edge

Employee experience in the Jewish communal sector not only avoided collapsing during the pandemic, but even improved in some areas. Results from Leading Edge’s fifth annual Employee Experience Survey reveal both common strengths and persistent struggles facing workplace culture in the Jewish nonprofit field.

Employees at Jewish nonprofits are overwhelmingly proud to work at their organizations. They know how their work contributes to their organizations’ missions, they believe their organizations provide quality services to their communities, and they feel respected by their managers. Employees also largely feel that their organizations are understaffed, that their salaries are unfair and derived from a process they don’t understand, and that they have little opportunity for advancement.

These are just a few of the many insights shared in a newly released report, Are Jewish Organizations Great Places to Work? Results from the Fifth Annual Employee Experience Survey. The survey studies how employees in the Jewish nonprofit sector experience their work, what keeps them engaged, and why they choose to leave or stay in their organizations. Conducted primarily to help each participating organization become an even better place to work, the survey also helps Leading Edge better understand issues of organizational culture affecting the Jewish nonprofit sector as a whole. The survey has been conducted every year since 2016, with the exception of 2020, as organizations scrambled to adjust to COVID-19 disruptions. 

The pandemic picture: relative stability and even improvement. The 2021 survey was fielded in May 2021—before the delta variant cast its shadow on the pandemic recovery and before subsequent signs of “The Great Resignation” came into focus. Still, as a snapshot of how the pandemic affected Jewish nonprofit workplaces to that point, the survey reveals good news: some aspects of team culture that were most directly affected by the pandemic, such as collaboration, communication, and employee enablement, stayed the same or even improved between 2019 and 2021. Survey statements that received more agreement in 2021 than in 2019 include: “My manager keeps me informed,” “My team receives high-quality support from other parts of the organization,” “At my organization there is open and honest two-way communication,” “I have enough autonomy to do my job effectively,” “I have access to the information that I need to do my job effectively,” and “Our systems and processes generally support us in getting our work done effectively.” This finding echoes broader trends; McKinsey reports that “during the pandemic, about 50 percent of the companies in [their] research data set increased performance, while the rest saw no meaningful change or decreases.”

Furloughs and layoffs. 39% of participating organizations reported that they conducted furloughs or layoffs during the pandemic, while 47% reported that they did not, and 14% didn’t provide this information. JCCs were hit particularly hard in this regard; 70% of participating JCCs reported conducting furloughs or layoffs. Firm-level data for the nonprofit sector as a whole is difficult to come by for an apples-to-apples comparison, but on the individual level, the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies estimates that 13% of nonprofits jobs disappeared between March and May of 2020.

What drives employee engagement? While the report contains many insights and implications about how the pandemic has changed workplaces, the Employee Experience Survey did not focus on COVID-19. Instead, like every year, it focused on how employees experience their working lives, and what keeps them engaged. “Employee engagement” means pride in the organization, motivation to do great work, and a desire to stay at the organization and recommend it to others as a great place to work. Employee engagement has been proven to be vital for organizational success. Each year Leading Edge shares engagement drivers—survey items that strongly correlate with employee engagement in their survey data. For 2021, in the Jewish nonprofit sector, the top five engagement drivers included “My organization demonstrates care and concern for its employees,” “I feel like I belong at my organization,” “I believe employee well-being is a priority at my organization,” “I have confidence in our leaders to lead the organization effectively,” and “At my organization there is open and honest two-way communication.” The importance of a sense of belonging in driving employee engagement demonstrates that organizations should consider effective action for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) a vital tool in maximizing their effectiveness in achieving their missions. (Belonging is an aspect of DEI.)

Why people stay or leave. In 2021, employees’ intentions to stay or leave their organizations in the future were correlated most strongly with: Whether people would recommend their organization to others; the extent to which people feel a sense of belonging at their workplace; whether people perceive that they are making daily progress with their work; whether people’s organizations prioritize well-being; and how motivated people feel to do their best work. The first two of these (motivation and whether they would recommend their organization as a workplace) align with past years’ Employee Experience Survey data. Two other top items in this list—a sense of belonging and a sense of daily progress—were newly added to the survey this year. Whether the organization prioritizes well-being, however, seems to be something that has become more important to employees. This item about prioritizing well-being was asked in previous years, but not until 2021 did it show this level of correlation with the decision to stay or leave.

What the survey is for: becoming a “leading place to work.” While Leading Edge learns insights from the survey about the entire field, the main purpose of the survey is to provide each organization with insights into its own unique strength areas to build on and growth areas to address in order to become an even better place to work. Participating organizations receive not only a customized report with their survey data, but also consultations and support from Leading Edge in interpreting the data and crafting a plan to create positive change. Leading Edge has identified the following core elements of a “leading place to work:”

  • Common purpose
  • Trusted leaders
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Respected employees
  • Talent development
  • Clear salary and benefits

Growth of the survey. More than 11,600 people from 221 organizations took Leading Edge’s Employee Experience Survey this year. This brings the multi-year total, since the survey’s inception in 2016, to more than 35,000 people at 316 organizations. This is quite a sizable sample relative to the Jewish nonprofit sector’s estimated 73,000 total employees. 135 of these organizations (61%) are returning after participating in the survey in previous years, while 86 (39%) are new participants. Survey data shows that the more years an organization takes the Employee Experience Survey, the better its scores, especially around psychological safety, salary and benefits, and learning and advancement.

What’s new in the 2021 survey. In addition to collecting data on furloughs and layoffs related to COVID, this year’s survey collects more data around employee well-being than previous years—including whether or not employees have opportunities to disconnect from work. Other new topics include whether or not employees feel they are making daily progress with their work; whether performance reviews help them improve; whether they feel their organization shows a genuine commitment to DEI; and more. For the first time, the survey also asks about whether employees have a disability relevant to their work—and the data reveal a significant growth area for the sector around disability inclusion. Employees with disabilities are less engaged than other employees and report having fewer opportunities for learning and advancement. Across many factors, their experience at work is below average in favorability.

The Jewish nonprofit sector as reflected in this survey is still not racially/ethnically representative of the North American Jewish community as a whole. While Jews of Color may represent as much as 12–15% of the Jewish community, only 6% of Jewish employees surveyed identified as any racial/ethnic group other than white. White employees are also overrepresented relative to U.S. demographics among the non-Jewish employees at the organizations surveyed. Beyond representation, the report also includes a detailed breakdown of how employees who identify with different racial/ethnic groups report experiencing work across different factors of work experience.

Making it real with stories. In addition to exploring the state of employee experience in our sector, the report provides some concrete, real-world examples of organizations getting something right. In the report you can learn how the Leichtag Foundation helps employees craft their dream jobs; how Jewish Nevada improved leadership communication; how Agence Ometz has improved salary transparency; how Honeymoon Israel has cultivated amazing board-professional relationships; and how Avodah has leveled up employee well-being and trust in their leadership.

Read the entire report at leadingedge.org/survey2021.

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