Decent Work advocates encourage non-profits to look innovatively at HR policies

While the concept of providing good work conditions for employees isn’t necessarily new, identifying and going public as a “decent work organization” certainly is.

In fact, until early 2017, there were very few vocal employer advocates of decent work in Canada. That is, until the Better Way Alliance — a national group of more than 30 non-profits and businesses—was established.

So what is decent work, anyway? And how does implementing it enable the non-profit sector to be more innovative in the HR realm?

Defining decent work

According to the International Labour Organization, the very essence of decent work is providing employees with work opportunities that offer a living wage, workplace security, social protection for families, and personal and professional development, among other things.

“You’re going to get a better standard of service if your employees are healthy, well paid, have good opportunities and stability,” says Amanda Terfloth, researcher and founder of the Better Way Alliance. “However, it was obvious to many in the decent work community that there weren’t many vocal examples of organizations that were doing this and succeeding.

“That’s why we created this alliance: to fill that gap in the conversation around working conditions and organizational effectiveness.”

More specific to the not-for-profit sector, the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) — a Better Way Alliance member — has identified seven elements that define “decent work,” including:

    • Employment opportunities
    • Fair income
    • Health and retirement benefits
    • Stable employment
    • Opportunities for development and advancement
    • Equality and rights at work
    • Culture and leadership

Decent work in the non-profit sector

So far, some Alliance partners have publicly spoken out about the benefits of decent work practices — including at the provincial Bill 148 hearings, as government officials sought feedback on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“Lots of businesses and non-profits believe they can’t afford to implement decent work — such as increasing salaries — but really, can you afford not to?” Amanda says, pointing to common HR challenges such as turnover, absenteeism, and low employee engagement. “Our mission is to promote the benefits of decent work, but also discuss the negative impacts of not implementing it.”

Monina Febria, Decent Work Project Lead for the Ontario Nonprofit Network, agrees. “In some places, it costs more money for non-profits if you can’t give them elements of decent work like health benefits,” she says. “It’s really about supporting your employees in the best way, so they can do their best work. But they can’t do their best work if you’re not investing in their well-being.”

Specifically, Monina emphasizes that non-profits work in a variety of sub-sectors from social services, mental health services, newcomer supports, education and senior’s programs to name a few, all with a range of different client needs and situations.

“Some organizations deal with very challenging issues, and their staff as a result also deals with those issues,” she says. “I think addressing decent work gives HR professionals and directors in the non-profit sector to say ‘okay, given our work environment, what supports could help our employees be the best at their jobs and help organizations meet their missions?’”

Decent work is also good for recruitment and retention, says Amanda. “People are becoming more aware of and are increasingly looking for employment at organizations committed to decent work. But if your organization has rampant turnover, your organization might advise qualified people not to apply to work at your place. Basically, not having decent work can affect your ability to attract and keep good talent.”

Implementing decent work doesn’t have to be about spending a lot of money. “Professional development opportunities can always be found at low-cost — even free,” says Monina. “It just takes a little time and planning and patience to find those opportunities.” Moreover, where workplace security is concerned, decent work can take many forms.

“I know some organizations that have even stopped hiring temporary workers, and now only employ full-time employees,” says Amanda. “But decent work can also be about the smaller things — like providing employees access to secure scheduling, letting them know in advance if and when they will be working certain hours, communicating how long they will be working there, and ensuring they can trust in that stability.”

Implementing and measuring decent work

St Stephen’s Community House, a member of the Better Way Alliance, has woven decent work into its organizational fabric by way of a simple checklist.

“We created this checklist with other charities and non-profits, and use it as a HR and communications tool between employers and employees,” executive director Bill Sinclair explains. “In using it, we can identify exactly where we’re doing great in decent work, as well as areas where we’re only doing average or need improvement.”

St. Stephen’s employees are asked to rate their employers on areas including health benefits, compensation and conflict resolution (there are more than 300 employees across 12 locations). St. Stephen’s was one of the sites chosen to pilot the checklist—and so far, has experienced great results, including a very ecstatic board.

“Essentially, this tool helps develop short-term and long-term goals for better partnership with employees within the organization,” he says, adding “we also use their responses to set our HR priorities for the next couple of years. It’s really been our ‘HR secret sauce.’”

Decent work and innovation in HR

Monina Febria believes decent work is innovative in that non-profits are now beginning to look inward. “Traditionally, the non-profit sector has been focused on delivering on their values to the communities they serve in resource-scarce environment, but decent work practices actually strengthen employee retention, organizational culture and health,” she explains.

The Better Way Alliance launched in spring 2017 and is continuing to add new employer partners that offer and support decent work practices. Partnership is not fee-based, as its mandate is to research and amplify good jobs strategies.

“It’s really just about amplifying and endorsing the concepts of decent work—and creating more opportunities for work that are fair, equitable and stable for everyone,” says Amanda.

To learn more about decent work and implementing it in your organization, click here to download a Decent Work Toolkit from the Ontario Nonprofit Network, or read this Smart Employers Talk report.

This nonprofit HR innovation story series is made possible thanks to a partnership between Community Foundations of Canada, and family foundation Ignite NPS. Together we are supporting Canada’s nonprofit sector by highlighting stories of HR innovation and promising practices taking place in community organizations across the country.

For more news & updates, subscribe to our mailing list, visit us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter