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JCC Association’s Workforce Survey Is a Valuable Tool, But Don’t Forget the Intangibles

By Lynn Wittels

Often, we feel as though we live in isolation—that our problems are unique and new. Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s part of the beauty of being a part of JCC Association of North America. We sometimes forget that we are surrounded by a cadre of colleagues who are working in agencies like ours. We have easily identifiable and readily available confidants and advisors, mentors, and trusted friends—all within the JCC Movement.

Recently, several JCC professionals met to discuss the newly released results of the 2022 JCC Movement Workforce Survey that was conducted by JCC Association. On one hand, the document was thorough and relatable. After all, who else in our world employs both a membership director and teachers? An aquatics director and a cultural arts department head? No other communal organizations are quite like Jewish Community Centers. We share so many issues that can either inhibit or enhance our success.

Although it’s a good start, it’s not sufficient only to compare our JCC’s salaries in St. Louis with those of JCCs around the country. How can we possibly compare hiring practices in California or New York with those in the Midwest? Conversely, are salaries in St. Louis relevant for people who live in smaller communities, especially in markets where the JCC is part of the community’s Jewish Federation?

St. Louis is a mid-size market with a reasonable cost of living. These factors don’t make the JCC Association report irrelevant; in fact, quite the contrary. Anyone who read the full report certainly noticed the sub-categories that help contextualize the data. I found the regional and cost-of-living data to be incredibly helpful, allowing me to compare our salary structure to those of JCCs in markets like ours.

But that’s not sufficient, either. Once all the data were laid out in a spreadsheet, I looked for patterns. I identified outliers within our organization and, where applicable, researched local market data (thanks to job websites Glassdoor and Indeed) to better understand where our JCC stands in relation to others in the St. Louis nonprofit landscape. This exercise doesn’t replace a full compensation survey, if one is warranted for your community, but it’s a solid start.

The final step is to evaluate the data, overlaying factors, including impact, that could yield higher or lower compensation rates. For example, consider how successful individual employees have been. How long have they been on staff? What experiences do they bring from outside employers? Would they be difficult to replace? Do they have high potential for future leadership if given the appropriate support to develop?

But compensation is only one factor, and research repeatedly shows it’s not the most enduring one. For the JCC executives, CEOs, and other leaders who attended the recent Mifgash: Executive Leadership Forum in Atlanta, Ga., we learned—although some already knew—that salary is never among the top three factors when it comes to employee engagement or job satisfaction. I found it especially interesting that employees’ professional growth, evidenced by such factors as title changes, expansion of roles, changing departments within the organization, and contributing to “stretch projects” are far more important than paycheck size. And we all know from the Leading Edge Employment Experience Survey that “care and concern” and “care for my well-being” tie directly to employee engagement—to a much greater degree than salary.

Of course, being true to the market is important, and how we compensate our people should demonstrate our commitment to both the market and our employees. But no one comes to work at the J or any other nonprofit organization to maximize their financial earnings. They come to the J because of our mission because they believe in the work we do, and because they love the environment we create—for staff, for members, and, indeed, for everyone who engages with us in the “town square” that thrives in every JCC.

The 2022 Workforce Survey is an important element in the picture, but there are others—and sometimes they’re intangible!

Lynn Wittels is the president and CEO of the St. Louis JCC in Missouri.

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