Staff Work Is Changing Again
In the spring of 2020, as congregations were forced to adapt suddenly to the realities of the pandemic, many congregational staff found their jobs changing – sometimes significantly. Changes for many staff included working from a home office and learning new technologies. Most staff needed to find new ways of doing their jobs and some were thrust into completely new areas of responsibility.
For some staff, the adjustments were relatively easy. Other staff did a tremendous amount of work, yet they enjoyed the chance to expand their skills and meet the needs of the congregation in new ways. Still others had a very challenging time as new responsibilities didn’t match their interests or skill set – and/or they weren’t given the time or resources to get up to speed. And, sadly, some staff had hours reduced or positions eliminated.
While online programs and activities will continue, congregations are now exploring possibilities for adding in-person activities back into the mix. Once again, we find ourselves on the cusp of a change in “how we do church.”
What does this Multi-Platform era mean for staff? We offer some questions and considerations to help you live into our values of equity and compassion so that staff can do their best work in these challenging times.
What Staff Need
Staff Need Time
- If you, as a leader or supervisor, request an undertaking or assign a responsibility to a staff member, do you have an idea of how long it might take? Are you asking the staff member how much time they expect it to take? A note to the technologically timid among us: someone on your staff may be a whiz with tech (relatively speaking, at least!), but that doesn’t mean they don’t need time to learn and execute technical tasks.
- As needs and responsibilities shift for a staff member, are priorities and workload discussed? When new responsibilities are added, are you increasing the staff member’s hours and/or removing something else from their plate?
- Are you accounting for the staff time needed for research, decision-making, and training?
- Are staff encouraged to take time for self-care? Are they taking regular days off as well as vacation time?
Staff Need Appropriate Compensation
- If staff are expected to work “above their pay grade” on a sustained basis, are you reviewing their pay rate?
- What about their hours? Especially for exempt staff, who may put in time above and beyond their nominal hours, their pay isn’t truly just if it doesn’t reflect the amount of time they are working.
- Have you researched what it would cost to hire a new staff member (or potentially a contractor) to do what you are hoping can be done by your staff?
Staff Need Resources
- Do staff members have what they need to do new tasks well – supplies, technology, books, training?
- Are your staff well-connected with their professional organizations so that they can learn from – and share with – their counterparts in other congregations?
Staff Need Agency
- Does each staff member have the opportunity to review their workload and priorities with their supervisor?
- Are staff reliably included in conversations about potential changes that might affect their work or their programs?
- Does a staff member’s level of authority match their level of accountability? Are you taking special care to avoid holding staff responsible for “fixing” things that are likely beyond their control and/or not up to any single individual? (Congregational staff report feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the expectation that they will, for instance, restore pre-pandemic levels of attendance or giving.)
- What is the impact of your decisions and policies on those who are more marginalized in the system? Continually check for biases and assumptions.
Staff Need Relationships
- Are you fostering a culture of teamwork among your staff so that they can support each other both in practice and in spirit?
- Knowing that conflicts will arise, is there sufficient trust, honesty, and vulnerability in staff relationships to manage differences well?
- Are staff encouraged to pursue networking opportunities through their professional organizations or elsewhere?
Staff Need Appreciation
- Thank your staff in your newsletter, in meetings, from the pulpit, in supervision. The most heartfelt expressions of gratitude are specific. What difference did a particular staff member make? How did the staff team make a Sunday morning extra special?
- Practical acknowledgments of staff efforts might include extra time off, gift certificates, or (when safe) a staff lunch.
While we'll avoid going deep into problem-solving mode here, we want to assure you that you are not alone if you see your congregation in one of these scenarios:
- We have a staff member who had been performing well in the job they were hired to do. But our needs and realities have changed and this person doesn’t seem as well suited for their new responsibilities.
- We have a staff member who was already having trouble with some aspects of their job before the pandemic. All of the changes of the past year have exposed the depth of the problem.
- Our resources are limited. Everyone is stretched thin. We know we aren’t paying as much as we should be and now we seem to need even more from our staff (and volunteers).
These are difficult situations. They may have been a long time in the making (preceding the pandemic) and there are no easy answers. Take a breath. You do not need to solve it all yourself or fix it all today.
Words of Wisdom
Adapted from our main Multi-Platform Resources page:
- Take Your Time: When COVID-19 struck in March of 2020, congregations quickly adapted their activities to be 100% online. We don't need to be in a hurry this time! Congregational life will continue to evolve, which means staffing (and volunteer) needs and responsibilities will keep changing. Flexibility is key.
- Listen Deeply to One Another: There will be no one-size-fits-all answer to how to be inclusive in programming going forward. The work on justice, diversity, equity and inclusion we've been doing will serve us well as we center voices at the margins to make sure we don't exclude anyone from congregational life. One aspect of listening deeply is making sure that staff are included in decisions that impact them.
- Online is not “less than.” Online programming is likely to continue to be primary for quite some time. Online and in-person are equally real; each has its blessings. What a gift technology has been to us during the pandemic! Just as online activities started out as an enhancement to in-person congregational life, what if we now consider in-person activities an enhancement to online life? Staff and other leaders can talk about gradually adding back a few onsite activities to complement your ongoing virtual programming.
- Be realistic. Don't feel compelled to do everything as a "both/and." Find a reasonable path forward, based on your resources and the capacity of your staff and volunteers. If there's too much to do, you don't need to do it all. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we can expand our notion of what "church" looks like. Revisit your must-do's. Can they happen differently or less often? Can the work be shared in a creative way, perhaps with another congregation?
Some of these LeaderLab Resource Library pages may be of help to you in considering alternatives and solutions grounded in our values:
- Congregational Staff Teams (collaborative leadership, supervisory relationships, and more)
- Performance Evaluations: Tips, Taps, and Trends
- Sharing Staff
- Valuing Your Staff During the Pandemic
For help with specific personnel situations, you are encouraged to contact your regional staff.
Especially for Supervisors
Self-Care and Staff-Care: Support for Supervisors was originally published in April 2020. Its messages continue to be highly relevant, with sections on responding faithfully to anxiety, understanding staff concerns, addressing performance problems, and more.