To build a better workplace, survey your employees about their experiences
For more than a decade, JCC Association of North America has surveyed JCC professionals as part of its JCC Excellence: Benchmarking surveys. The data collected, in addition to exploring interactions with JCC members, was designed to explore the quality of professionals’ own experiences in the workplace and identify the key drivers of staff satisfaction.
As the largest employer in North America’s Jewish nonprofit sector, the JCC movement employs more than 55,000 professionals — 12,000 full-time, 23,000 part-time and 20,000 seasonal staff — in its more than 170 JCCs (Jewish Community Centers and Jewish community camps).
Given the movement’s outsized labor force — particularly as JCCs of North America’s leaders juggle a deep commitment to their professionals, employees’ new expectations about working hours and locations and a tightening labor market — workplace culture increasingly is a critically important matter, not only in JCCs, but in organizations throughout the professional world, where culture often is neglected and undervalued.
For more than a decade, JCC Association of North America has surveyed JCC professionals as part of its JCC Excellence: Benchmarking surveys. The data collected, in addition to exploring interactions with JCC members, was designed to explore the quality of professionals’ own experiences in the workplace and identify the key drivers of staff satisfaction. To help JCCs across North America develop a truly strong, attractive culture, JCC Association leaders set about to deepen its existing relationship with Leading Edge.
The original partnership between the two organizations began in 2019, when JCC Association started to work with Leading Edge to gauge JCC employees’ experiences using the latter’s Employee Experience Survey (EES). Since 2016, the EES has been sent to more than 52,000 employees working at nearly 500 organizations in the nonprofit Jewish sector. Using the survey results, leaders and managers can identify organizational strengths and areas in which workplace culture can be improved. Organizations whose employees take the survey over multiple years tend to see their results improve year over year as leaders’ interventions demonstrably improve employees’ working lives.
Now, building on the overlapping survey questions asked on parallel EES and JCC Excellence: Benchmarking surveys, Leading Edge and JCC Association have created a single, comprehensive survey that supports the work of both organizations. The 2023 EES is currently in the field at 334 organizations with more than 31,000 employees — including 83 JCCs with more than 13,000 employees. The EES eliminates the need for JCC staff to complete two surveys and will provide data about JCC professionals’ experience, and effectiveness. JCC Association encourages JCCs to participate because the aggregated data — when contextualized within the Jewish communal sector — provides a realistic measure of how the JCC movement works for its employees, resulting in an 80% increase in the number of participating JCCs from 2022 to 2023. And the more the movement works for its professionals, the more they, in turn, can serve their own members and Jewish communities across the continent.
From its newest partnership with Leading Edge, JCC Association has garnered solid data about JCCs’ employees, the factors that most influence their happiness and sense of belonging at work, and their desire to remain employed at their JCC. The most recent 2022 EES revealed numerous findings from the 46 JCCs that participated. For example, 60% of JCC movement employees are not Jewish, while beyond the movement, approximately 40% of employees are of other (or no) faiths. This figure is more than incidental. As Deirdre Munley, a longtime employee in the Jewish sector, who is not Jewish, notes in this eJewishPhilanthropy op-ed, “[T]here is rich religious diversity within the workforce that powers Jewish communal organizations … [and] perhaps contrary to expectations, non-Jewish employees may be some of the sector’s most engaged and dedicated long-term employees, an important distinction in times of significant employee turnover across the workforce at large.” At the same time, Leading Edge data also has shown that non-Jewish employees in the Jewish nonprofit sector, experience fewer feelings of belonging compared to Jewish employees, which has implications for workplace equity, inclusion, engagement, and retention. According to Munley, “Unsurprisingly, much of what can be helpful in inclusion practices generally holds true here as well.”
The JCC Excellence: Benchmarking surveys also have allowed participating JCCs to assess and track changes over time in drivers of high staff satisfaction and retention, including professional development opportunities, regular communications, the perception that senior management cares about staff well-being and the ability of executive directors and boards to set a vision for their JCC’s future, which also correlates with reported JCC rewards for innovative thinking and calculated risk-taking.
With most Jewish nonprofit organizations’ employees working in person for at least part of the week, while the challenges of building a great culture over Zoom or in hybrid settings also still persist for many organizations and employees, both Leading Edge and JCC Association are seeing a renewed emphasis on creating positive employee experiences. That’s a good thing. Tools like Leading Edge’s EES are relevant for any organization that seeks to create a strong, positive workplace culture. By understanding the factors that most affect employees’ experiences, leaders can drive change that effectively creates and sustains the desired culture in their organizations. Without the honest and confidential input from employees who take the EES and the analysis of the results that Leading Edge provides to participating organizations, leaders in the nonprofit Jewish sector might as well be steering their boats in the dark without a compass.
Andy Paller is a vice president of JCC Association and director of JCC Excellence: Benchmarking. Alena Akselrod is senior director of data strategy at Leading Edge.