Employee well-being

Retention planning during the Great Resignation

In Short

During the Great Resignation we knew we needed to act quickly to retain our staff and remain competitive. At only 11 years old, and without a permanent building facility, Mishkan Chicago has largely succeeded and grown due to our strong mission and the talents of our 14 full-time and 10 part-time staff

Mishkan Chicago is an independent, post-denominational Jewish spiritual community serving over 4,500 unique people a year. Our mission is to lead people toward more purposeful, more connected and more inspired lives by creating Jewish spaces where people can bring their whole selves and be part of something larger than themselves.

During the Great Resignation we knew we needed to act quickly to retain our staff and remain competitive. At only 11 years old, and without a permanent building facility, Mishkan Chicago has largely succeeded and grown due to our strong mission and the talents of our 14 full-time and 10 part-time staff. In the early months of 2022 we began a retention plan, the goals of which were to 1) support employee well-being 2) increase retention through strengthening and formalizing our culture 3) increase transparency and equity and 4) remain competitive in salary and benefits.

Support employee well-being

We learned much about our strengths and challenges through the 2022 Leading Edge Employee Experience Survey, a survey that helps Jewish nonprofit leaders and managers identify organizational strengths as well as growth areas that can be addressed to improve workplace culture. From our survey results, we learned that the largest factor for high employee engagement at Mishkan is that our employees feel their well-being is valued by the organization and by their direct supervisors. In support of employees taking care of themselves, we put into place a caretaking policy that grants employees explicit permission to take time to care for themselves, for family members, friends, pets, colleagues. Our employees, with and without children, appreciated knowing that Mishkan understands that caretaking for self and others can look different for each person. We also increased our number of office closures throughout the year after learning that employees often felt pressure to “check in” at work even when on vacation or sick, because others were still working. We have found that when employees prioritize taking time away from work to care for themselves, they can show up with greater positive presence and focus at work. 

Strengthen and formalize culture

Since moving to remote work in 2020 due to COVID-19, we heard from staff that they value the ability to work flexibly, both in terms of location and schedule. We have since made “work from home” permanent, though we also maintain an office space for group meetings and individual work. Our staff largely control their own daily schedules, with guidelines for communicating availability and responsiveness. When staff have autonomy around where and how they work, they have a greater ability to make their work and personal lives “fit” together and they feel trusted. We have seen first hand that this decreases stress and increases well-being without negatively impacting productivity. 

In this process, we also learned that while we put a great deal of thought and effort into the experience of our community members, we had not put similar intention into the experience of our staff. In a collaborative, iterative process, our staff created five values that characterize our workplace culture: 

1) We innovate and see challenges as opportunities to learn and grown 

2) We take care of ourselves and each other 

3) We belong to a team 

4) We are invested in what we do, and create an enjoyable work environment and 

5) We create a culture of respect, positivity and empowerment amongst ourselves and for our community. 

These values are both descriptive and prescriptive, highlighting how we work together when we are at our best and providing guidance when we aren’t. Existing staff can align with and embody these values, new staff can better understand our workplace culture, and we can strengthen the social and emotional connections between staff that factor into employees staying at their jobs. 

Lastly, we created a comprehensive recognition and appreciation plan for our staff, making sure that we celebrate our wins, get to know each other as whole people, and publicly recognize the ways that our staff make individual and collective contributions to our work and workplace culture. 

Increase transparency and equity

Another important finding from our survey results is that staff desired more clarity around compensation, raises and possibilities for advancement within the organization. To address that, we will provide annual staff education on salary bands and our compensation philosophy. We also implemented a tiered raise system, in which the lowest paid employees are eligible for the highest percentages raises, as a way to center equity in our compensation process. Next, we created a responsibility matrix for the different titles in our organization, and a process by which employees can be considered for promotion on an annual basis, based on their performance and capacity, but also according to organizational needs. We will also train our director-level employees to have “career conversations” with the people they manage, to increase transparency around how an employee can expect to advance within the organization, while supporting their long-term career paths.

Salary and benefits

While we know that salaries and benefits are not the only factor in employee retention, we also knew we had to remain competitive in this tight labor market. We updated our salary bands to account for inflation and changes in the market, and surveyed our employees on what benefits they most valued. Our staff most valued health benefits, and as a result we increased the employer contribution toward employee health benefits, both for individual employees and for spouses and dependents, taking some financial pressure off of our staff and their families. And at no direct cost to our organization, we increased the number of vacation days and sick leave available to staff, and dedicated four days annually to be used explicitly for mental health, rest and self-care. 

How did we do it? 

We’re a relatively small organization, and we don’t have formal human resources certifications or even a human resources position, let alone a department. To achieve this retention plan, we relied on the insights of our staff, the subject matter expertise of lay leaders in our community, the results of the Leading Edge survey, and the generosity of our peers and peer organizations in the Jewish nonprofit community, who shared their time, expertise and policies with us. We also involved employees at various levels of the organization in the planning process, allowing them to take on new responsibilities and feel a sense of ownership in the plan. The result was that our whole process was more collaborative, more transparent and less top down. 


While we expect to feel the impacts of our retention planning for years to come, the collaborative and transparent planning process has already had positive impacts on our workplace and our employees. Making space for honest conversations about what we want from our workplace and our working relationships helps support the psychological safety of our employees and gives everyone a stake. 

We wanted to share our work here to show that even a relatively small, independent organization can leverage resources to create a strong retention plan that keeps employees engaged, energized, and wanting to bring their best to work every day. 

Rachel Cort is executive director of Mishkan Chicago.

Ashley Donohue is director of communications of Mishkan Chicago.