February 2020 Culture Assessment
ACE currently asks our staff to participate in a culture survey twice annually. Going forward, we plan to publish an overview of the results—along with a review of other aspects of our culture—in this section of our website for transparency. This assessment is modeled on the culture assessment we conduct of charities that we evaluate.1
Human Resources Policies
Here we present a list of policies that we find to be beneficial for fostering a healthy culture. This is the same list that we referenced in Criterion 7 of our comprehensive charity reviews in 2019. A green mark indicates that ACE has such a policy and a red mark indicates that we do not. A yellow mark indicates that we have a partial policy, an informal or unwritten policy, or a policy that is not fully or consistently implemented.
According to the survey2 we conducted, staff were mostly satisfied with ACE’s benefits and time off policies,3 and all but one felt they were adequately compensated.
Culture and Morale
ACE considers a healthy culture to be one where an organization acts responsibly toward all stakeholders: staff, volunteers, donors, beneficiaries, and others in the community. This is what we strive for as well.
According to the culture survey, ACE staff have a good understanding of our mission, vision, and three-year strategy, and our mission makes their work feel important.5 They also have a high level of satisfaction6 with the job, leadership, and coworkers, and feel that their opinions are heard and considered by management.7 Nearly all respondents felt they have adequate engagement and connection with their coworkers and adequate structured opportunities for non-work-related social engagement (e.g. Happy Hour calls, Codenames meetups, #watercooler Slack channel, etc.).8
We also identified some areas for improvement from the survey results. Firstly, we identified a need for more consistency in scheduling performance evaluations.9 Since reviewing the survey results, we switched from conducting performance evaluations once annually to twice annually. The survey results also demonstrated that a significant minority of staff reported feeling burnt out,10 having too high of a workload, and not feeling comfortable requesting multiple consecutive days off.11 Since the culture survey, we have increased our efforts to improve wellbeing by scheduling discussions, sending Slack reminders about our self-care time allotment, and organizing optional calls to provide support for each other regarding the Coronavirus pandemic. In addition, staff are currently working to complete cross-trainings, which we hope will allow all them to feel comfortable taking extended periods of time off. We are continuing to encourage staff to speak to their managers about workload and are prioritizing the projects we’ve outlined in our 2020 goals: Staff are encouraged to set boundaries around their work and defer lower-priority projects to the following year. Finally, we also noted room for improvement in giving praise or recognition to some staff,12 clarifying board member roles to staff, and possibly expanding board member involvement. Our Board Chair, Persis Eskander, is currently revising board member roles and expectations.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
One important part of acting responsibly toward stakeholders is providing a diverse,13 equitable, and inclusive (DEI) work environment. Charities with a healthy attitude toward diversity, equity, and inclusion seek and retain staff and volunteers from different backgrounds, which improves their ability to respond to new situations and challenges.14 ACE strives to create an equitable and inclusive work environment by providing necessary resources for employees with disabilities, holding regular discussions on topics such as racial and gender equity, and attempting to protect employees from harassment and discrimination.
In our culture survey, all but one respondent strongly agreed that ACE attempts to protect its staff, contractors, interns, and volunteers from discrimination, harassment, bullying, and retaliation, but almost 30% of staff would like more extensive training on these issues. ACE currently provides formal training on our Respect in the Workplace Policy during onboarding of new employees, as well as annually for all employees in September. We occasionally have discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics: For instance, we hosted a session during our March 2020 staff retreat and we plan to hold a day-long equity training in the third quarter of this year. All respondents agreed that ACE provides adequate opportunities for DEI discussions and that we prioritize DEI in our growth plans.
See our Charity Evaluation Criteria.
In February 2020, we worked with an external consultant to administer a culture survey. All responses were anonymous and analyzed by the consultant, who then provided ACE staff with a summary of the results. The survey was sent to 14 team members (13 employees and one soon-to-be employee). Eleven participated, for a response rate of 79%. Most questions were on a Likert scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”. We recognize at least three limitations of our culture survey. First, because participation was not mandatory, the results could be skewed by selection bias. Second, because respondents knew that the summarized results would be made public, they may have felt an incentive to emphasize ACE’s strengths and minimize weaknesses. Third, some of our questions were unintentionally ambiguous, which led to different interpretations affecting some of the answers.
Just one team member responded “neither agree nor disagree” with being satisfied with our time off policies.
About 37% of our culture survey respondents slightly or moderately agreed with the statement, “The times I *need* to work hours outside of the hours I would *prefer* to work are too frequent; this aspect of the job regularly bothers me”. Another nearly 20% responded, “neither agree nor disagree”.
All respondents stated that they understand the mission, vision, and current three-year strategy (vast majority at least “moderately”), and all respondents strongly agreed that the mission makes their job feel important.
This is based on levels of agreement with statements like “I’m happy at my job”, “I’m proud to work at ACE”, “Leadership cares about me”, “I see myself working at ACE in two years”. At most one person responded with disagreement to these types of statements.
Most respondents strongly agreed that their opinions are heard and considered by management; one disagreed and one only slightly agreed.
Just one team member responded “neither agree nor disagree”.
Almost 50% of respondents felt that their last performance evaluation was not done on time. It is important to note that the time of year designated for our performance evaluations in 2019 overlapped with our Executive Director transition, which caused some of them to be delayed.
We defined “burn out” as “feelings of exhaustion, overwhelm, and decreasing productivity due to overwork”.
About 20%–35% of respondents indicated that they felt burnt out much of the time. Almost 20% said they were not able to complete their work in the hours they are expected to work, which may vary depending on the time of year or project needs. Almost 30% did not feel comfortable requesting multiple consecutive days off.
About 82% of respondents said that they had received praise or recognition for doing good work in the past week.
We use the term “diversity” broadly in this section to refer to the diversity of any of the following characteristics: racial identification, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability levels, educational levels, parental status, immigrant status, age, and/or religious, political, or ideological affiliation.
There is a significant body of evidence suggesting that teams composed of individuals with different roles, tasks, or occupations are likely to be more successful than those which are more homogeneous (Horwitz & Horwitz, 2007). Increased diversity by demographic factors—such as race and gender—has more mixed effects in the literature (Jackson, Joshi, & Erhardt, 2003), but gains through having a diverse team seem to be possible for organizations which view diversity as a resource (using different personal backgrounds and experiences to improve decision making) rather than solely a neutral or justice-oriented practice (Ely & Thomas, 2001).