The Common Good

Staff Who Deserve Retention Bonuses

There's been quite a lot in the news recently about AIG and its concerns about retaining "talented staff" if bonuses go unpaid. I too work with exceptionally talented men and women.

I am executive director of Joseph's House, a small nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that since 1990 has continuously provided around-the-clock compassionate end-of-life care for men and women who are homeless and dying of end-stage AIDS and cancer. Due to increased competition we recently lost a federal grant for $155,000 -- not much money by federal standards, but salaries for our direct-care staff. The grant was expected to begin March 2. Instead, at our last meeting in February, I explained to Joseph's House staff and volunteers that I could see no alternative but to lay off as many as three people.

Before I could say more, Catherine Fitch, a home health aide and longtime employee of Joseph's House, said, "I'll work three days a week if it will help someone else keep their job." "So will I," nodded Mercelda Williams, a nurse's assistant. "Count us in," said home health aides Joanie LaPorte and Theresa Szkromiuk. On the spot, four of our direct-care staff gave up 40% of their income so that no one would have to be laid off! After the meeting, the nurses and other salaried staff met with me one on one: Everyone gave up something so that no one would have to lose their job. One nurse reduced her hourly rate from $35 to $25. Another nurse said she will work five days a week but charge Joseph's House for just four days. By moving out of her apartment into a room at Joseph's House, an administrator will save the organization $1,20o a month. Volunteers extended their hours to make sure all shifts will be adequately covered.

Something at least as precious as jobs would be lost if any of our talented staff had to be laid off. Like AIG, Joseph's House may not be able to retain its talented staff. However, if we can't retain them, it won't be because they don't want to stay.

Every leader dreams of serving an organization of men and women such as those who serve at Joseph's House. At Joseph's House I work with men and women who serve from the heart, who put others ahead of themselves, who, in adversity, conduct themselves with dignity, generosity, and grace. It is women and men such as these who are helping our country steer a steady course through economic turbulence that was not of their making. I am grateful for their leadership. I wouldn't blame Mr. Liddy if he wanted to trade shoes with me, but I would not want to swap places with him!

Patricia Wudel is the executive director at Joseph's House.

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