How to boost morale and prevent resignations during salary cuts

Teachers say they would seriously consider leaving their job if significant cuts were made to their salary and benefits, so leaders need to focus on why these employees came to their district in the first place, a study finds
By: | June 29, 2020
School salary cuts and lead to low school morale and teacher resignations, so district leaders need to focus on boosting teacher morale. Getty images/Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

A vast majority of K-12 employees say they would most likely leave their job if their district made significant cuts to their salary and benefits.

A survey of 400 state and local government K-12 public school employees in March found that reductions in salary, defined benefit pension plans and health insurance could result in 75%, 60% and 58% of employees leaving their school system, respectively.

The survey on school salary cuts was conducted by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and Greenwald & Associates, a full-service market research firm.

“It’s not clear whether or not these teachers are actually going to leave if cuts are made, but what it is telling us is that when there are significant cuts in these particular areas, it will impact teacher morale and their overall happiness in their job,” says Rivka Liss-Levinson, director of research at SLGE, a nonprofit organization that provides research to keep state and local governments knowledgeable and competitive. “So school leaders need to find what initially attracted employees to their jobs in the first place.”

How to keep teacher morale high

The ability to serve the community, job security and personal satisfaction are what initially attracted teachers to their district in the first place and, consequently, what they appreciate most about their current role as an educator, the study also found.

“None of these items are related to insurance, benefits or salary, so there is an opportunity here for leaders to bolster these factors and to increase what people love about working in K-12 rather than being concerned about what cuts could ultimately result in,” says Liss-Levinson.

Financial literacy could also boost school morale

In terms of pension plans, 73% of survey-takers said they would appreciate more information about their retirement planning.

Meanwhile, other research conducted by SLGE found that a vast majority of government employees want more financial education and feel positively about autoenrollment and auto estimation. For example, in a hypothetical model that studied the effects of anchoring, state and local employees put more into their plans when their deferral rate rose.

“This is an opportunity for administrators to educate their employees on how to have a more financially secure future in light of these reductions,” says Liss-Levinson.

“While there is a need to make cuts, the study recognizes that there will be short- and long-term impacts, so leaders need to pay attention and be thoughtful as they navigate through these difficult economic times,” she adds. “But what came out loud and clear is how passionate and driven teachers are, so it’s important to think about the value that employees are placing on their work and what is motivating them to do the best job they can.”

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