Director’s Blog October 4, 2019
By Ian Billick, PhD
We will be advertising several jobs soon. Samantha Siegfried, who worked in the front office for 5 years, has taken a position at Western Colorado University. Also, after 7 years Gesa Michel will be transitioning out towards the end of the year. We will be reorganizing things a bit, so the job descriptions may look different. They will be posted at rmbl.org/jobs.
We spend quite a bit of time thinking about staffing, including evaluating and mentoring existing staff, monitoring job descriptions and organizational structure, attracting and retaining staff, and understanding why we lose staff. For many reasons, such as promoting a sense of community and overall productivity, we value continuity. We do our best to avoid hires that last less than 3 years. That is actually pretty long for Crested Butte, especially for non-profits. Executive Directors tend to be with organizations the longest. If you look at the tenure of local organizations you get a sense of the turnover. While there are a few old-timers (Adaptive’s ED started 20+ years ago and HCCA’s ED started with the organization of 10 years ago), the ED’s of the CB Music Festival and the Mtn Bike Association both started in 2016, the ED of the CB Land Trust started in 2017, and the Center for the Arts will probably have 3 different ED’s this calendar year. Support staff in many of these organizations turn over yearly. So a RMBL hire that lasts beyond 5 years is a success.
Several things affect retention. Probably the most commonly cited issue by people leaving RMBL is health care costs. We have some of the highest in the country. A high deductible policy for a family of 4 runs about $30k/yr, with RMBL covering about $5k/yr per employee. Many of our employees get health care through their spouses, and if that disappears, people can’t necessarily afford to work for RMBL, especially given housing costs. A family-sized condo or townhome unit outside Crested Butte can cost $500k.
It’s hard to cover $50k/yr in housing and health care costs on an entry level salary of around $40k/hr, even if your partner does well. It is part of our strategic plan to increase both salary and benefits.
The ability to be successful in the job also affects retention. It’s a pretty brutal thing to fail because you don’t have the resources to get your job done. When you hire good people they take pride in their performance.
They can beat themselves up for things they don’t have control over. And while the scientific community is generally pretty supportive, we’ve had instances of scientists completely demoralizing staff in a way that affects retention. So we think not just about salaries and benefits, but also whether each staff member has the staff support, resources, and at times, the appropriate buffer, to be successful and happy. Budget realities are such that we can’t always give staff what they need, which in general raises expectations. It’s great from a productivity perspective, but it does make retention harder. In addition to increasing salaries and benefits, we are working hard to get staff more resources. Not only will this mean RMBL staff can better serve students and scientists, but it will reduce burnout.
Retention is also harder because RMBL continues to change. Employees need to grow in their positions to keep up with how RMBL is changing. Ideally, we need people who are proactively adapting to RMBL’s changes. We are not a great place for people who want to do the same thing, in the same way, year in and year out.
When we ask employees what makes them happy about their jobs and why they stay, they often mention you! They love the intellectual vitality, how excited people are, and the diversity. A great interaction between a student or a scientist will excite and stay with a staff person. They really do want to make a difference. So don’t hesitate to smile and tell staff how much you appreciate them. It really does make a difference! And I’m sure that Samantha and Gesa would both appreciate hearing from you thanking them for their service over the years!