4 Great Employee Retention Ideas for Arts and Cultural Orgs

Imagine the curtain falls on a successful performance by your theater company with record attendance. The applause ringing out around the theater is not just for the performers on the stage, but also for the behind-the-scenes heroes—your staff members—who made the show possible.

For arts and culture organizations like yours, it’s essential to have a strong internal team supporting your activities, whether you’re preserving cultural heritage, offering visual arts classes for kids, or putting on musicals.

But like the rest of the nonprofit world, you face unique challenges when it comes to retaining employees, ranging from tight compensation budgets to work-balance issues. In this guide, we’ll explore four ideas to help you boost employee retention at your organization.

1. Offer competitive compensation.

Your employees understand just how important your work is to the community. However, even the most passionate and talented employees will be tempted to look for employment elsewhere if your compensation strategy is not up to par. The good news is that you don’t need to have a big budget to offer an attractive compensation package.

Enter: Total Rewards. This is a compensation philosophy that encourages employers to take a holistic view of compensation, going further than just a paycheck to address several areas of your employee’s lives.

With a Total Rewards approach, you not only offer fair wages and standard health benefits, but you also offer indirect benefits like:

  • Employee wellness programs
  • Discounts on programs, performances, or other services
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Volunteer time off (VTO)
  • Free transit passes or other transportation benefits
  • And more!

These additions help you save money while still providing employees with desirable benefits. To design your own Total Rewards compensation program, review your organization’s values and what you know about your employees’ needs and preferences. This will help you determine the best indirect benefits to offer in addition to cash compensation.

You may also choose to work with an HR consultant to design your Total Rewards strategy. According to RealHR Solutions, you should look for a consultant who is an expert in Total Rewards, has strong communication skills, and is willing to collaborate with your team. This will set you up for a successful consulting experience.

2. Prioritize employee recognition.

Over 83% of employees say that recognition impacts their motivation to succeed at work. This is why you should show your employees how much you value their hard work and individual contributions—doing so will encourage them to stay loyal to your organization and continue performing to the best of their abilities!

Here are some types of employee recognition to champion at your organization:

  • Formal recognition, which involves a standardized process.
    • Example: Highlighting an individual employee’s accomplishment on LinkedIn
  • Informal recognition, which involves communicating appreciation in a one-on-one way.
    • Example: Thanking an employee via a thank-you note for going above and beyond
  • Top-down recognition, which comes from a supervisor.
    • Example: A manager congratulating an employee on beating a monthly sales record
  • Peer-to-peer recognition, which involves individual employees recognizing one another.
    • Example: One employee sending another a thank-you email after a successful collaboration

The specific ways you recognize your employees will depend on your organization’s culture and employee preferences. For example, you may give employees gift cards as part of your formal recognition efforts or create a digital Bravo Board where peers can thank each other.

3. Invest in professional development.

To encourage employees to stay with your organization for the long term, you need to demonstrate that it’s a place where they can have a long and fulfilling career. Do so by investing in professional development and actively educating your employees about the growth opportunities.

There are many opportunities your organization can offer. Here are some examples:

  • Cross-team training
  • Workshop or conference attendance
  • Online courses
  • Mentorship programs
  • Book clubs or learning circles

Have the managers at your organization discuss career paths and aspirations with each of their direct reports. This way, managers can point their direct reports to the professional development opportunities that suit their needs, whether it’s taking an online course about using AI in fundraising or attending an arts education conference. 

4. Encourage work-life balance.

A job you are passionate about and dedicated to is a blessing, but it can quickly become a burden if you’re not prioritizing work-life balance. This is especially true in arts and culture organizations, where employees may work irregular or long hours, deal with limited resources, and put a lot of emotional investment into their day-to-day tasks.

To encourage work-life balance at your organization, follow these tips:

  • Offer flexible working arrangements when possible. Identify work that can be done outside your office and offer employees the option to work remotely. For instance, managing your theater’s customer service phone line may be a job someone can do from home.
  • Suggest that employees disconnect from work after hours. This means avoiding checking emails, taking calls, and doing other tasks when employees are not at work. This helps employees set healthy boundaries and recharge when not on the clock.
  • Create a culture where employees can take full advantage of their time off. We’ve all heard stories about organizations that offer time off but don’t really want their employees to use it. Don’t let that be your organization! When employees take sick or vacation time, emphasize that they do not need to work while spending their time away.

The best way you can encourage work-life balance is to lead by example. When your employees see you disconnecting from work, taking advantage of vacation time, and working productively in a flexible work environment, they’ll feel empowered to do the same.

The people who work for your arts and culture organization are special—they care about the arts, the community, and the people whose lives your work touches. To keep them around for the long run, you need to take an active approach to make your organization a great place to work. Use the retention strategies above to get started!