Maximizing a Shelter's Impact with Data-Driven Employee Experience

Since 1999, Mary’s Place has helped thousands of families in King County, Washington, move from unsheltered to stable housing. Across five emergency family shelters and a Women’s Day Center, Mary’s Place provides housing and employment services, community, and hope. While helping men, women, and children who are experiencing homelessness is highly rewarding for the non-profit’s employees, the work can be stressful and emotionally draining due to the strain the families are under.

Client Situation

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mary’s Place began exploring different models for sheltering families—social distancing had become an imperative, and demand for services was up due to skyrocketing rents and the elimination of thousands of local jobs. Mary’s Place leadership determined that the nonprofit needed a better way to understand employee sentiment and drive programs that matched gaps identified by employees. To kick off a successful employee engagement campaign with Mary’s Place, North Highland partnered with the agency’s human resources division to build scalable and sustainable HR practices and metrics to expand programming and operations and drive employee experience, in turn, helping local families thrive.   

Our Approach

North Highland focused on two work streams: employee experience and data readiness. To bolster employee experience, our team mapped the employee journey through two lenses:

  • Focus groups with key employee contingencies, such as HR, family and shelter advocates, and front-line managers, to explore all phases of the employee journey, from discovery of Mary’s Place to recruiting, hiring, onboarding, working, and exiting.  
  • An imaginative question survey designed to uncover employee sentiment about working at Mary’s Place. The survey, which had a 37 percent completion rate among employees, uncovered positives as well as pain points related to working for the agency.

Together, these lenses highlighted the contrast between employees’ belief in the importance of working for an organization that does good and their need for support for their physical and emotional well-being to avoid burnout.

To evaluate and address data readiness, North Highland focused on data acquisition strategies and aligned with the employee lifecycle to identify key strategic drivers, systems, and metrics that could help the team make data-driven decisions. Top of mind for Mary’s Place executives was the need to enhance talent acquisition and promote employee engagement and well-being, thus increasing employee retention. While Mary’s Place has two robust HR systems that provide critical data, the agency needed assistance determining how the data aligned to key objectives. Executives also wanted help prioritizing insights across value and complexity, with five measures ready for execution and a stack-ranked list of measures that would inform a complete data strategy.

These two workstreams highlighted three key findings:

  1. Mary’s Place is full of special people who are committed to helping others.
  2. Working at Mary’s Place is demanding, and employees typically leave the organization after two and a half years. 
  3. Well-being and professional development are key to driving career growth and retention for Mary’s Place employees.

Value Delivered

North Highland made three recommendations to enhance the employee experience and bolster the agency’s ability to measure the impact of its efforts.

First, based on employee feedback and empirical data, we recommended that Mary’s Place invest in a strategic career progression path to empower committed employees to grow within the organization. For example, managerial training would help employees understand the competencies and develop the skills to lead front-line staff. Investments like this one will help valuable employees pivot to roles with more responsibilities while feeling invested and engaged.

Second, our team advised activating employee listening, which focuses on ensuring that employees are heard and decisions are made using people-centric analytics. This could be as simple as mandating post-incident reviews and de-escalation training—and tracking their effectiveness—in the shelters.

Finally, we counseled Mary’s Place to promote a culture of well-being to help employees practice self-care both on the job and off. Together, these initiatives will help Mary’s Place employees do what they do best: care for families as they navigate their journey into permanent housing.