The Romance Writers of America had seen its membership drop precipitously since the pandemic.

A leading writers’ organization has filed for bankruptcy following plummeting membership and struggles to bounce back from a high-profile organizational crisis.

On May 29, the Romance Writers of America filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. According to  reports on the filing published in the Guardian and Publishers Weekly, RWA owed more than $3 million to hotels relating to its conferences (two of which were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and nearly $75,000 to other creditors.

RWA’s rising debts have been exacerbated by cratering membership numbers. According to reports on the filing, RWA membership has fallen from 10,000 to 2,000 since 2019. Those canceled pandemic-era meetings contributed to the erosion in member numbers, but president Mary Ann Jock said in the filing that most of the lost members were due to “disputes concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues between some members of a prior RWA board and others in the larger romance writing community.”

Jock’s statement refers to some longstanding accusations of racism in the community, but more specifically to a 2019 incident in which author Courtney Milan, then chair of the RWA’s ethics committee, was suspended from the organization for a year in response to statements she made regarding racism in the romance-publishing world. RWA’s move was widely perceived as alienating and needlessly punitive among its membership, and in short order the entire board and two staff members had resigned.

Underrepresented members and their allies will vote with their feet when diversity efforts fail.

RWA commissioned a report on the incident that identified various flaws in the association’s structure when it came to handling ethics complaints. The association then retooled its awards in 2020 to highlight its commitment to diversity in the romance-writing world. “We are working on building a new RWA, an RWA 2.0, one that has at its core: diversity, inclusion, equity, and access,” then-president Alyssa Day told Associations Now when the changes were announced.

It didn’t take. Financial challenges hobbled the organization, as did a declining need for an organization connected to mainstream publishers at a time when more authors in the genre were self-publishing. One observer suggests that RWA also served an extremely cohesive group—one that was primed to exit en masse when it felt the association wasn’t serving its needs. Christine Larson, a scholar of the romance writing community, told Literary Hub that “a super important thing to take away here is that romance writers have the strongest writing community that I have ever seen.”

Expanding on that point in the Conversation, Larson wrote that RWA’s inability to respond clearly to diversity challenges accelerated its struggles. “Underrepresented members and their allies will vote with their feet when diversity efforts fail,” she wrote. “It might not happen as abruptly or dramatically as what the Romance Writers of America experienced; it’s certainly easier to quit a professional organization than a job. But the rise and fall of the group shows that if organizations struggling with full inclusion don’t rewrite their story, their members will do it for them.”

Milan echoed the sentiment to the Guardian, saying “It was a retreat from a commitment to equality that caused membership to leave RWA.”

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The technology’s growth has exacerbated fears among staff that we’ve engineered them out of their jobs. Clear goals and straight talk can help.

American CEOs are all-in on AI. According to a new survey by KPMG, their enthusiasm for adopting generative AI tools has accelerated, now that they see it as “central to overcoming challenges resulting from compound volatility and gaining a competitive advantage.” Thirty-nine percent of CEOs say they plan to move AI projects out of the pilot phase in the next 12-18 months, and a similar percentage say they plan to increase their investment in the technology.

Concerns? CEOs have a few, but they generally say they’re able to handle it: More than two-thirds say they’re prepared to address the cybersecurity and ethical issues generative AI presents. As for what this all means for their staffs, that’s a little iffier: 61 percent say they’re prepared to address employee resistance to AI, and 27 percent say that employee resistance is a “top challenge” for more fully deploying it.

Those numbers suggest that there’s a conversation that leaders aren’t having with their people about what they want AI to do, and what role the workforce plays in it. A recent survey from IBM found that anxiety among workers over AI eating everything in sight—including their jobs—remains persistent. A majority of CEOs in the survey said they’re adopting it faster than some are comfortable with. As the report puts it: “Many employees see generative AI as something that’s happening TO them, not a tool that works FOR them.”

Many employees see generative AI as something that’s happening to them, not a tool that works for them.

Like any sea change in technology, leaders will need to get buy-in from their people, and that means developing clarity about what the organization’s goals around AI are, and communicating those goals. The IBM report includes some helpful guidance around this, noting that the technology is there to “eliminate friction from the employee experience,” not replace the employee. But to make that point in earnest, the report says, leaders need to drill into employees’ reasons for pushback, and show how technology can ease their burdens. 

On top of that, leaders should be training up on the technology, framed around the idea that the technology serves the organization’s culture, not the other way around. The KPMG report has some optimistic data on this front: 95 percent of CEOs say they’ve invested in employee training around responsible generative AI use, 82 percent conduct regular assessments around its use, and 71 percent say they use human oversight for AI processes.

I’d like to see that last figure grow a little higher; it’s also troubling to see that barely half of CEOs have established ethical guidelines for their organizations around AI use, and only 37 percent have implemented privacy measures. (More CEOs say to plan those things in the coming year.) Conversations around new technology for workers and members often boil down to questions about trust. Do your people have faith that you understand the pros and cons of what you’re introducing to their daily lives? Do they feel that you’re well prepared to address the inevitable tensions and frustrations that will arise?

“Until they’re convinced, they won’t take the initiative to rethink how work is done,” the IBM report says. Good leaders are buy-in experts; they know how to persuade boards, members, and staffs to think strategically about all manner of issues. As AI rapidly overwhelms how work is done, they’ll have to work to build buy-in around that as well.

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The report from Cvent finds that team leaders are committed to hybrid workforces, but looking at ways to increase engagement.

A new report finds that organization leaders see increasing value in in-person staff meetings, even with a more distributed workforce.

The 2024 U.S. Internal Meetings Impact Report, released last week, is based on a survey of business leaders conducted by the events technology firm Cvent in collaboration with the Harris Poll. The survey found that more than three-fourths of respondents (78 percent) say in person or face-to-face meetings are “absolutely necessary” or “very important,” while 89 percent say “internal meetings are an important part of the future workplace.”

A majority of leaders say their staffs are experiencing virtual-meeting fatigue.

That doesn’t mean that leaders are abandoning the hybrid workplace: A majority of respondents (56 percent) said the future work environment will be more hybrid or remote. But they say they’ve also found their employees craving in-person connection too: A majority of leaders say their staffs are experiencing virtual-meeting fatigue and that employees see the value of in-person networking.

“When we couldn’t meet [during the pandemic], we all realized how important in-person was,” said Cvent SVP and Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Smith. “In workplaces, there are people who’ve never been to headquarters, and we want to get everybody engaged in the corporate culture. That’s what drove this need to have in-person events for internal uses.”

Meeting just to meet isn’t enough, however—leaders and employees alike want to see value in in-person gatherings. A majority of employees say they want “less frequent but impactful in-person meetings,” according to the report. The report also suggests that there’s an increased interest in gathering data around meeting effectiveness: 92 percent of leaders say they “use metrics to measure the success of internal meetings.”

Smith said that many of the questions that organizations use to measure the effectiveness of their conferences can be used for internal meetings as well. “You can set up a survey,” he said. “What did you like about the experience? Did you enjoy your time on site? Was it valuable? What can be improved?”

Not everybody is going to be satisfied with every hybrid arrangement, and according to the Cvent survey that seems to be especially true of Millennials. While leaders say gen Xers and Boomers generally prefer in-person meetings and that gen Zers prefer virtual gatherings, they’re less certain about Millennials, with 44 percent saying that group prefers in-person while 35 percent say they prefer virtual meetings.

That disconnect, Smith said, speaks to the importance of gathering information about attendees and demonstrating flexibility when it comes to convening staff. As the report puts it: “The future of work is dynamic, built on flexibility. Keeping the ‘human’ element alive and promoting in-person interactions are not just options – they’re the secret sauce for a thriving organization.”

“There’s no doubt flexibility is the rule these days, and I think that flexibility is really driving the need to bring people together all at the same time,” Smith said. “Even if you’re in a mostly back-to-the-office type of environment, you’re going to have people moving in and out. When you bring them together in person in a very intentional way, you have an opportunity to get your employee culture really tight and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

The survey is based on a survey conducted from February 12 to 26 of 250 C-level leaders of organizations who have decision-making power on return-to-office policies.

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A new report shows that nonprofits still struggle to broaden the range of people who participate in governance. Change begins with an open conversation about challenges.

Four years after a very vocal and intense public conversation around diversity, how far have we come? A new report points to some positives, but also suggests that there’s plenty of work to be done.

The State of Diversity in the U.S. Nonprofit Sector [PDF], released last month by Candid, is based on an analysis of nearly 60,000 organizations. Its main takeaway is that while many organizations have addressed diversity in their organizations, nonprofit leadership is predominantly white and male, especially at larger groups: while 47 percent of all staff identify as white, 70 percent of CEOs and 66 percent of board members do.

As the report points out, DEI efforts only go so far when they’re decoupled from leadership opportunities. “Diversity alone is ultimately insufficient,” says the report. “Our diversity must be coupled with equitable opportunities and resources, and inclusion in conversations, decision making, and leadership. An important step toward improving equity is examining who currently has access to power—through leadership roles and/or financial resources.”

Diversity alone is ultimately insufficient. Diversity must be coupled with equitable opportunities and resources.

In light of that, it’s worth paying particular attention to the report’s dedicated section on boards, which sheds some light on how power is distributed in nonprofitdom. After all, as the report notes, “boards often make some of the most critical decisions within organizations, including approving budgets and resources, overseeing legal and ethical issues, setting strategic direction, and hiring the next CEO.”

On this front, boards do tend to be more diverse than corner-office leadership. In the aggregate, nonprofit boards have achieved gender parity, with an average of five women and five men. But organizations with budgets greater than $1 million tend to have a majority of men on their boards; the trend line is similar when it comes to race, LGBTQ+, and disability status. 

Discussions around board diversity are complicated, particularly at associations. Beyond the matters discussed in the Candid report, it can also encompass geographic location, area of practice within an industry, practitioner versus supplier roles, and more. But the stakes are also straightforward: Who serves in key leadership roles makes a statement about who has power in an organization and who doesn’t, and diverse organizations are less prone to the blind spots that centralized power dynamics create. 

That’s why the increased criticism that diversity and DEI efforts have faced recently to some extent miss the point. Tokenism in any diversity effort is a risk, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. Successful diversity efforts begin with open conversations about who’s not being heard, and whether current leadership structures tend to silence particular voices. There’s no one right way to improve board diversity, but there’s a clear wrong one—avoiding a discussion about an organization’s blind spots.

So unsurprisingly, one of Candid’s main recommendations is that boards start talking. “Board members set much of the vision and direction for nonprofits, and therefore board meetings are an important place to hear from diverse perspectives,” says the report. “At the same time, data suggests that this is the level of the organization where diversity is often lacking.”

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The National Association of Broadcasters’ campaign to preserve AM radio had a big push on the air—but savvy online organizing helped as well.‘

Last week a Congressional committee approved a bill that would require cars to have access to AM radio. The move comes a year after the introduction of the AM for Every Vehicle Act, and an even longer period of industry advocacy on its behalf. Some automakers had begun removing AM radios from electric vehicles, citing interference between AM frequencies and their motors. But organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters argued that AM radio was a crucial lifeline for Americans.

“AM radio delivers local news, sports, traffic reports, talk shows, foreign-language programming and other critical content to 82 million listeners a month and remains a key part of the emergency communications infrastructure,” said Alex Siciliano, Senior Vice President, Communications at NAB.

To convey that message as the bill worked its way through Congress, NAB naturally relied on AM radio stations themselves to get the word out. But it also developed a multichannel grassroots advocacy plan that ensured that support for AM radio would be spread widely, easily, and consistently. It launched a dedicated website,, with an associated hashtag, #DependOnAM.

Two weeks after the campaign’s launch in April 2023, more than 100,000 people sent emails to Congress, increasing to more than 300,000 by the end of the year. The push helped garner bipartisan support for the bill in Congress, and prompted Ford to announce it was scuttling its plans to remove AM radios from future models.

Within two weeks, more than 100,000 people sent emails to Congress.

But despite the broad support for the effort, legislation takes time and can get derailed easily in a contentious Congress. So part of NAB’s approach was to keep returning to the message in new ways. “We had a steady stream of news hooks to keep the campaign fresh,” Siciliano said, including pointing to emergencies like the recent Baltimore bridge collapse. “We also schedule regular monthly emails and texts to our grassroots that link to our Phone2Action campaign to ensure the momentum continues.”

On the online side, NAB worked with Quorum, an advocacy software company that helped develop tools people could use to contact legislators—and tools to gather meaningful data to communicate with those legislators as well. “You can highlight the messages to a member of Congress and say, ‘Hey, here are 1,000 people in your district who wrote you and here’s what they say—that’s pretty impactful,” said Quorum cofounder and CEO Alex Wirth. “You can also hold those messages to be delivered at a given time.”

That last feature can help keep the momentum of a campaign going. But the effort won’t work just through savvy timing, Wirth said; associations also need to continue messaging on a campaign to make participants feel like they’re part of the story it’s telling.

“Simply sending one email and saying, ‘Hey, we need you to take action on this’ is not going to have the same conversion rate as making an effort to educate advocates and say, ‘We have a central issue that we care about, making sure that we have AM radio in cars,’” Wirth said. “People will be much more inspired and willing to take more action, because it’s not just coming out of the blue but rather something that they really care about.”

The act’s passage through a House of Representatives subcommittee is a positive sign for the effort, and observers note that it’s likely to pass both houses of Congress soon. But until it crosses the finish line, NAB is keeping the messaging going. “We still have much work to do to ensure the bill passes through Congress,” Siciliano said. “We will continue to use all the tools we have in the toolbox.”

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Remote and hybrid work have unsettled an already messy environment. Strengthening teams starts with improving how you communicate with them.

Teams are in trouble. According to research gathered by TED, half of meeting attendees find them unproductive—the proverbial “this could’ve been an email” situation. Nine out of 10 people daydream in meetings, and 75 percent of leaders haven’t received formal training on how to conduct them. The kicker is that these are circa-2014 figures, and the challenges of remote and hybrid work have only exacerbated the challenge.

Methods for effectively managing teams will vary as much as teams do, but some bedrock principles do apply. Writing recently in the Harvard Business Review, executive coach Luis Velasquez stressed that better managing groups starts with better communicating with its individual members. “Understanding and addressing your team members’ individual strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and fears is key to fostering an inclusive and participatory environment,” he writes. “People’s self-perception and their individual personalities can discourage them from engaging.”

Leaders can unconsciously favor the input of people who are closest physically to them.

To address that barrier, Velasquez recommends that team leaders get to know their people one-on-one, which can help surface thoughts and concerns that might not emerge in open-ended group discussions. But leaders also need to understand that groups are cultures in themselves, and need to be managed with a group philosophy in mind. Leaders do best when they cultivate an environment where people feel they can safely share their ideas. And they can do that by clarifying goals up-front, demonstrating empathy when people are participating the way they want, and tamping down power struggles before they become bigger challenges. 

“As leaders, we must cultivate teams where every member’s contributions are not only heard but eagerly anticipated, and where every member feels safe to voice their opinion, even contrarian ones,” he writes.

The new remote and hybrid environment exacerbates these challenges, in large part thanks to proximity bias—leaders can unconsciously favor the input of people who are closest physically to them. As a recent article at Built In points out, that can lead to remote workers getting “left out of decision-making processes, project assignments, promotions or other career advancement opportunities.”

There are a variety of tactics that leaders can use to create a level playing field. They can avoid hybrid divides altogether by making everyone participate virtually or in-person, the article suggests: “When one person on the team is virtual, everyone should be following virtual communication protocols — even people who are in the office.” They can also be more intentional in responding to the disparities that hybridity creates, like how they likely tend to give more feedback in-person.

Or they can rethink the idea of meetings entirely—oftentimes, that meeting really can be an email. In the article, HR chief Amy Casciotti suggests that leaders try to avoid convening people for small-bore matters like delivering data or status updates. Leaders can instead record and share a short video clip in advance, which gives participants an opportunity to process and brainstorm—especially if they’re less skilled at doing so in the moment. This “flipped meeting,” Casciotti says, “ensures every employee is given equal opportunity to fully understand information, brainstorm, and share commentary in advance.”

That suggestion speaks to the challenge and promise of team management—you’re working as a group, but the group succeeds when individuals feel like they’re able to bring their honest ideas to the table. No leader will likely ever be able to entirely stop people from daydreaming in meetings. But they can create a better environment where people feel like their voices are heard.

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The Association Climate Action Coalition hopes to create a community of practice around ways nonprofits can make the world more sustainable.

A pair of consultants have developed an initiative to help associations share insights and strategize around climate change.

The Association Climate Action Coalition was informally launched earlier this year by Elizabeth Weaver Engel, MA, CAE, and Shelly Alcorn. The effort follows the publication last year of a white paper the two co-wrote, The Time Is Now: Resilience and Adaptation and the Anthropocene Climate Disruption [PDF], which discussed the challenges associations face due to climate change, from meetings to office space and more. (Disclosure: I was a compensated copy editor for the publication.)

The coalition, as with the white paper, emphasizes the unique role associations can play in responding to climate change, both in terms of their internal actions and how they leverage the industries they represent. “A lot of the focus right now is either on individual actions or the UN—either a large international NGO has to take care of this, or I’ve got to go out and get an electric car,” Engel said. “Associations fall in the middle, and the majority of the work is going to have to happen in the middle.”

We wanted this to be a grassroots thing for people who want to get practical around climate change.

Shelly Alcorn

Through ACAC’s website and dedicated LinkedIn page, Engel and Alcorn are convening discussions around actions associations can take and respond to requests for guidance. (The two also formed a four-person advisory group composed of association, legal, and climate experts to assist.) “We wanted this to be a grassroots thing for people who want to get practical around climate change, giving them an opportunity to network with each other and share ideas,” Alcorn said.

Alcorn added that the coalition intends to convene those conversations by emphasizing practical action and avoiding getting mired in political debate on the subject. “Too often climate change is politicized and [association leaders] don’t necessarily speak the truth, because we don’t want to offend certain percentages of our members,” she said. “But at some point, we have to be truth tellers, whether our members want to hear it or not… So many people who are working on this feel marginalized and afraid to talk.”

Engel and Alcorn have used the site’s discussion board and LinkedIn page to start conversations around climate change and share case studies of what associations have done to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s also developed a ChatGPT tool that is tailored to answer sustainability-related questions from the association community around “climate resilience strategies.” As participation in the groups increase, Engel and Alcorn said they hope to add more features, such as informational webinars, to its mix of offerings. Plenty of associations are paying attention to climate change, Engel noted, but often operate independently.

“There is already a group of associations, mostly STEM associations, that are leading on this, but I think there’s a larger group of associations that are trying to do things,” Engel said. “They’ve gotten rid of their paper [meeting] program and they’re making other small efforts, like encouraging people to bring their own water bottles to conferences and talking to exhibitors about not giving away so much plastic junk. But they haven’t really dived in yet. It’s just one thing they’re paying attention to. Here we can move some of those folks further along.”

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Even the best execs can wear out their welcome. Smart CEOs create pipelines that build future leaders and successors.

Don’t you think it’s time you quit?

For many CEOs reading this, the answer is probably “not yet.” Though the average CEO tenure in the corporate world has stayed relatively steady in recent years, there is also a growing phenomenon of “forever CEOs,” those who’ve stayed in the job for a decade, or decades.

There are upsides to a long-tenured exec—stability, institutional knowledge, experience with common crises, and more. But there are also challenges, as a recent article in the New York Times Magazine points out: A steady hand at the helm also means a risk-averse leader who misses opportunities to innovate. The chief example of this in the article is Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, who managed the company through a “lost decade” where it let the competition pull ahead on search, smartphones, and social media. The company stayed afloat, but it didn’t—forgive me—excel.

Apple is facing this challenge now as its current CEO, Tim Cook, nears retirement age, and every stakeholder has an idea of what a successor needs to be. “An Apple CEO needs to either be the visionary to bring new products to market, or needs to be able to find who the visionary is and partner with that visionary to bring those new products to market,” Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman recently told the Economic Times.

Even if you’re not heading out the door anytime soon, it’s crucial to be thinking about what succession planning will look like.

You don’t need to be running a company with a trillion-dollar market capitalization to be dealing with this stress. The challenge for a small-staff association executive is no different—even if you’re not heading out the door anytime soon, it’s crucial to be thinking about what succession planning will look like in your organization. That means training up your board on the issues that your organization will face in the coming years, and developing a pipeline internally that ensures there are staffers who are ultimately equipped to manage those issues.

Some organizations are taking this process to extremes: One governance expert recently told the Financial Times that some boards are so anxious around risk management and continuity that “they need a plan B and a plan C.” 

But for many organizations, the question is likely more straightforward: What will you need in the coming years that you don’t currently have? Here, the Times story has an example as well: Former Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh, who led the company for 13 years and dedicated most of his efforts around upping the brand’s cool quotient. When he planned to leave, though, he wanted “someone with new talents” and selected Michelle Gass, a retail pro.

Bergh represents what business professor Jeffrey Sonnefeld calls the “ambassador” CEO, neither the long-tenured royal nor the job-hopper. It’s the sweet spot of servant leadership—long enough to dedicate the best of your talents to making an organization better, short enough to know that the job is never up to you alone. The exact amount of time for that will different from executive to executive. But whatever that answer is, the responsible leader has the task of ensuring that they’re preparing somebody else to lead as well as they have. Even if they’re not leading the same way.

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The American Cancer Society hopes to gain insights from 100,000 respondents to better understand racial disparities around diagnoses and treatment.

The American Cancer Society has launched a wide-scale national study to better understand trends around Black women and their cancer risks.

VOICES of Black Women, announced by ACS on May 7, intends to enroll 100,000 women across 20 states and Washington, D.C., in a 30-year survey. Participants will receive regular questionnaires about their experiences and lifestyle, which ACS hopes will help reveal insights about inequities around diagnoses and treatments of cancer in Black women. 

Research shows that Black women under the age of 50 are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, said Dr. Alpa V. Patel, MPH, SVP of Population Science at ACS and co-principal investigator of the VOICES of Black Women study. The idea for the study was developed around six years ago, Patel said, as researchers became more alert to those disparities in cancer rates. After the pandemic, efforts around the initiative accelerated. “That really brought to even greater light the health inequities experienced in the Black and brown community,” she said. “That got us to the point where we said, ‘OK, we can’t wait.’”

Research shows that Black women under the age of 50 are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.

ACS is directly appealing to potential survey participants through a dedicated website, but is also using its network of corporate partners and connections with healthcare organizations to spread the word and meet its goal of gathering 100,000 participants. The program is administered by the association’s Department of Population Science—which Patel said has staffed up to support the effort—in consultation with a scientific advisory board composed of eight Black women specializing in cancer and public health. All board members will serve three-year terms. 

Participants in the survey must be cancer-free, a requirement that Patel says will help ACS access more accurate data about the lifestyles of those who do eventually receive a cancer diagnosis. And though the survey is looking at cancer specifically, ACS also intends to look at a variety of health factors. “We did include some members of the scientific advisory board who are not specifically cancer-focused, because this type of study will really have a far-reaching impact in terms of understanding the health of Black women more broadly,” Patel said.

The survey plans to include participants in Washington, D.C., and the 20 U.S. states which have the largest proportions Black women. To test the feasibility of the study, last fall ACS ran a pilot test with around 400 participants in Atlanta and Hampton Roads, Va., to ensure that its questions were clear. “We wanted to understand if there were concerns that came up with the language in the consent forms or any of the marketing materials, and give people the opportunity to provide feedback on the acceptability of the study design.”

Study participants will be asked to take part for 30 years, receiving regular follow-up questions that will remain consistent during the survey’s run. As findings around cancer change, Patel said, some questions may change as well. Regardless, ACS plans to regularly report its findings. “As soon as we have a sizable number of women enrolled, we can start to do cross-sectional studies—what we’ve learned about how where you live or access to different things correlates to different behaviors,” she said. “On some things, we can begin publishing almost immediately.” 

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Employee engagement is the lowest in a decade. Hybrid arrangements are a lead culprit, but one association is well-equipped to address.

According to a recent Gallup report, employee engagement in the United States is at an 11-year low. Time to panic?

Not exactly. To be sure, engagement has nosedived since the pandemic, with only 30 percent of survey respondents saying they’re “highly engaged,” down from 36 percent in early 2020. But that’s still above or at the percentage between 2000 and 2013. And though the percentage of those who are “actively disengaged”—the “quiet quitters” that managers were so stressed about a couple of years back—has ticked up, the figure has stayed relatively steady across the time Gallup has conducted its survey.

What the study does reveal, though, is that organizations still haven’t cracked the code of managing hybrid work and creating opportunities for connection within their workplace and professional communities. So the shift presents an opportunity for association leaders not just in terms of their own staffs, but their members as well.

Speaking with SHRM last week, HR consultant Carly Holm noted that the disengagement problem is a function of contemporary life, not just the workplace. “The world of work has changed so dramatically in the last few years,” she said. “People are spending so much more time on screens than actually interacting with other people. I believe that decreased human interaction has led to a decrease in employee engagement.”

Hybrid arrangements don’t address the engagement problem they’re intended to solve.

And that disengagement is exacerbated by the fact that today’s most popular hybrid arrangements—like asking people to come in three days a week—don’t always address the engagement problem they’re intended to solve. A recent Forbes article quoted a LinkedIn post by leadership consultant Heather Paterson, pointing out the disconnect. “If hybrid working is simply people coming into the office to do the exact same work they do at home–sitting and looking at a screen all day–then the benefits of being together are not going to be recognized,” she wrote. If we want people to be happy about coming into the office, we have to make it valuable.”

So, what does “make it valuable” look like? Better coordination of schedules for remote and hybrid workers can help. But so can better communication of the purpose of their work. The Gallup survey noted that the highest levels of disengagement are among younger workers, so opportunities to remind them of how they fit into an organization’s overall goals is key. Meghan Stettler, head of the workplace consultancy O.C. Tanner Institute, told SHRM that she “recommended managers redesign one-on-one meetings away from the standard updates on work progress toward discussing how employees’ work is tied to the organization’s purpose, how they are delivering on making a difference, and how their passions and skill sets could be better utilized, as well as clearly mapping growth opportunities and celebrating their accomplishments.”

That notion of communicating purpose is something that associations can extend to their members as well. If opportunities to meet, connect, and learn are valuable, associations can develop ways to provide them—whether that’s through chapter meetings, casual meet-ups, or marketing the value of networking around larger events. The slackening in engagement speaks to a frustration many are feeling about their sense of belonging. Associations, who foreground a sense of belonging as a core value, have an opportunity to step in.

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