How to get ahead in hiring with Nancy Varsos

One of the things the pandemic has done is isolate us. How can we reengage our team to be an effective team again? In this episode, we talked with Nancy Varsos of Varsos Consulting on how to manage and build teams in the new workplace.

We talked about strategies for maintaining engagement with your current staff as well as strategies for hiring in today’s market.


CTMM Intro 0:00
Cynthia Rojas 0:05
Hi, everyone. Welcome to Coffee Time with Masterminds. And I am Cynthia Rojas. I have to tell you, I love that jingle. I just really, really love it. And I want to welcome our co-host, Pieta Blakely. Hi, Pieta. How are you?

Pieta Blakely 0:41
Good morning, Cynthia. Good. How are you?

Cynthia Rojas 0:43
I’m good. Do you love that jingle?

Pieta Blakely 0:45
I do. And I was just thinking as it was playing though, that every time I look at our new logo, I love it more and more.

Cynthia Rojas 0:52
Oh, I do too. I do too. Well, welcome, everybody to Coffee Time with Masterminds. This is a 30-minute show where we talk about issues in terms of leading non-profits or mission-based organizations during a time of craziness. How about that? Great opening. And if you are joining us, please tell us your name and where you’re from. We get listeners from all over the world. And I do want to say hi to our Australian listeners. We are syndicated in Australia. And it’s been exciting to be a part of that landscape and also impart our knowledge. Today is a really interesting show. I’m going to bring on Nancy Varsos. Hi, Nancy, how are you?

Nancy Varsos 1:38
Hello! Good. How are you, Cynthia? So good to be here today.

Cynthia Rojas 1:41
Yeah, again, you’ve been with us before, and we so want to continue the conversation. But before we jump right in, we’ve been having a series of conversations regarding the workforce. There are things that are happening right now, at this time in the US. One, we are calling it the great resignation, where people are not returning to the jobs that they had pre-pandemic. And we were on a search to see where are they? And so, we met a couple of people doing really cool stuff. And the pandemic helped us see that in fact, there is another way of working. There’s another way of living. We met somebody who’s seen the country. She… what did she do? She got it out, a bus.

Pieta Blakely 2:30
That’s right. She moved into her camper full time.

Cynthia Rojas 2:35
That is so cool. And then we talked to Alicia, a labor economist, to talk to to hear what’s really going on with this great resignation. And now we have Nancy Varsos. And, Nancy, you’ve been here before talking about culture. And you were on several months ago, earlier in the pandemic, when we were talking about a new way of working. And we wanted to bring you back because non-profits are really suffering when it comes to the war on talent. They normally suffer, because they don’t pay as much as the for profit counterparts. They tend to lose their competitive edge sometimes to really great talent. But now the problem seems bigger. So today, we wanted to talk to you about what can non-profits do to remain competitive in their war of talent, and once we get them, what can non-profit leaders do to keep this great talent? So, tell us, Nancy, what’s going on out there? What are you seeing?

Nancy Varsos 3:48
It is an interesting world of, you know, I’ve got two kids in their 20s. And they applied to jobs, they apply to jobs, they apply to jobs, and they don’t hear back from them. And yet everybody in the world says that they’ve got openings, that help is wanted and that they need people. As well as you all know, if we go to a restaurant, or we go to a retail shop, they’re all short of people. So, it’s a very strange world, as we were speaking about, Cynthia, of just trying to understand what’s happening with the workforce. But I think as I look at what the pandemic did, it had us re-evaluate who we were and what our lives were and what was important. And I think that’s where, as you mentioned, I’m going to travel across the country, I’m going to take advantage of the life that I have. I don’t have to be stuck at a desk in an office all the time. I can be doing what really is meaningful to me and what’s exciting for me.

Cynthia Rojas 4:50
Yeah, and so it even happened with us. So when we came back after our summer hiatus, PETA told our listeners that she has moved. So, we know that her background looks a little differently. But actually, what some may not know by just looking at her on a weekly basis is that she’s actually moved to a different state, and she’s really happy. And that flexibility was due to… Pieta, do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Pieta Blakely 5:19
Well, yeah. I mean, one of the reasons that we were able to move is that I hadn’t seen a client in real life in about a year and a half. And I realized that it wasn’t bothering my clients, that there was probably no expectation that I would ever go and see them in person again, and some of them weren’t going to have an office for me to go see them at anyway, or half their staff would not be at that office on a given day. I think everybody just got so accustomed to running all our meetings by Zoom. We really can’t imagine like spending an hour in our car, or on public transportation just to go to a meeting when you just turn it on on your screen. So, that means you can live anywhere that you have good Wi Fi.

Cynthia Rojas 6:08
Yeah. And in two weeks, I’m moving. And you know, for the same reasons, this idea of now we can work anywhere. So, there’s a lot that’s come out of the pandemic. Nancy, you said something interesting about there are also employers who are not responding back to people who are applying. I wonder if there’s a shortage in the HR department. But I had a similar experience. Someone told me that they went for a job and applied and it was a great job. They left a great job for this job, because it was more money. And then when they began with this new company, it turned out that the job was per diem, and that it wasn’t a full-time job with benefits. And I automatically thought of you. I said, wait a minute, this is what Nancy is talking about. So, this is a different issue in that employers are not stepping up to the plate and what we’re hearing from our employers who are suffering, and saying there’s no one out there to hire. But then there are other employers who are not following through.

Nancy Varsos 7:20
Yeah, they’re being deceptive. It was interesting, my husband was reading an article the other day about a woman who decided to apply for 60 jobs in 30 days. And in applying for the jobs, she got one request for an interview only. The sign for the job board said that she would be paid a certain amount of money, that she would be full time, that she would have benefits. And when she interviewed for the job, the feedback was, “Nope, you’ll get paid minimum wage until six months in, and then you’ll have that opportunity to make $2 more an hour. No, you’ll start part-time and then after 60 days, we’ll re-evaluate you and see if you’re full time.” So, the deception is there. And I’m not quite sure why. I’m not quite sure how that benefits the organization – lack of transparency, and are they going to benefit? I don’t think people are that desperate to get to work. We’re not in desperate times right now. They’re either switching to another job, or they’ll continue to collect unemployment, or they’ll continue to do side jobs and not take something that they really don’t want to have.

Pieta Blakely 8:43
Excuse me, it sounds like employers, at some point got used to calling the shots and think they are entitled to treating potential workers a certain way. One, they haven’t adjusted their expectations to the new market; but two, what a mean and hostile way to start a relationship. You’re talking about like, oh, we really hope you’re going to be very loyal and stay here forever. But we’re going to open our relationship by telling half-truths, and you know.

Nancy Varsos 9:16
Well, and I think in the outside world, the retail world, the restaurant world, you’re going to stop shopping. Me, I am an advocate. I was the biggest shopper in a store. I used to love to go to the stores and hit the retail storefronts, and I’ve become an online person because there’s not availability. They push me there. There’s no customer service. Why not just cook dinner at home? We’ve all learned that we can live in a much simpler way. And therefore, that’s even turning people off.

Cynthia Rojas 9:48
Yeah, yeah. I suspect that there are some companies who are really struggling with HR personnel. And it’s burdening them. There was a comment that came up. And I just want to recognize because Rebecca is in the background. Nancy is defining inequity in the workforce. Yes, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about that a little bit – inequity in the workforce when it comes to job searching, recruiting anything of that nature. Nancy, what are you seeing out there?

Nancy Varsos 10:30
I think what’s happening is they’re not taking the human being behind the resume, or behind the application. And what’s happening is in my in my perception, is that HR is inundated with resumes or not the right resumes, quick to judge the resume. Oh, you know, I have many managers that I’m working with now that are potentially recruiting and saying, “Oh, they had short stays,” or “Oh, we can’t look at them, because they don’t they don’t have the perfect background.” So, we’re not interviewing the human being. We’re too quick to dismiss people.
You know, we’ve had to think a little bit differently in the organization I’m working with is, what is it? As I went back to the last time I was on the show, what is the culture that we need? Do they need to be in the office five days a week? Or can we work one day a week in the office and the other four days home? People want to be hybrid. We have people from all over the country, and if the managers aren’t receptive to that, it’s a quick toss-it-aside-and-not-even-consider-it. So, I think what’s happening is your management team, or your managers are looking at it at face value, versus potential, a little more than we used to. And now it’s an employee II market, which means that they can ask for higher – they will ask for higher salaries, I’ve had to up my salaries probably by about 20 to 25%. Again, I feel like I’m back in 2006, when I was offering a receptionist $18 an hour, which, in 2006, that was tremendous amount of money. My thought is it’s going to burst. I’m not sure when it’s going to burst, but it’s going to burst.

Cynthia Rojas 12:23
Yeah, you bored this idea to the show, meaning, that we have to pay attention to the different roles, and we have to make sure that we’re looking at it from an equitable standpoint. And you had this great idea, which I think about every time I pass a front desk person, about how we think roles like the receptionist will never be able to work from home. And you have this idea of imagine a screen when you walk into a building, and someone’s on the other side of that screen. That person is at home, they still deliver the customer service that you expect, but they’re not necessarily at that place. And so, that’s an important point that employers need to pay attention to – equity when it comes to this new culture.

Nancy Varsos 13:17
And I think it’s innovative. How can we be innovative? One of the things we talked about, Cynthia, I think when we were chatting is, can I have two part-time people that can share a job? Does the continuity have to be there? Again, can I have a receptionist working remotely? And really examining what is the purpose of the job? What is the outcome, the result of what that job is trying to achieve? And can we achieve that in a non-conventional way, in an innovative way to help our employees? If you said, “What’s the top thing an employee’s looking for today?” It’s flexibility. How can I look at that flexibility? You know, we, the office I’ve been working with during the pandemic, we haven’t answer to phone out of the office in two years. Do we really need phones in the office, when and if we’re in the office? You know, we’re communicating through teams, we communicate through cell phone.
What are some of the different ways that we can think about to be more thought and more innovative, more flexible, more engaged with our employees on how and asking the employees? It goes also to asking your employee. How do you think you can make this job work in a different format? Is it doable? We think about what people have gone through having children and working and potentially sitting on a computer and trying to conduct a meeting and your kids are in the background and you’re running around, you know, you’re not allowed to leave the house. You’re terrified of illness. We’ve been through a lot. Now, how do we make it work better for the organization?

Cynthia Rojas 14:57
Yeah, I know Pieta and I know clients where there are substantial staff that are resigning or rleaders within an organization, whether it’s a few number or the top leader, and that also, in these times causes even more disruption. Right? Because leaders who are leading through complex times require visibility. They require communication, and when they’re not there, those things start to fall apart. Pieta, what are you seeing?

Pieta Blakely 15:39
There’s a lot of turnover in every organization and every level. I think, at the at the level of direct service workers, you know, there does seem to be a shortage of those workers, because the pay is not good enough. And they’re competing with each other, and they’re competing with other industries. But also at the level of leaders and executive directors, there’s a huge amount of turnover. And people are leaving abruptly, which is really disruptive in an organization when, you know, an ED only gives a few weeks, and then they leave. And I think that that’s just really adding to everybody’s stress. So, everybody is overworked because they’re short staffed, and they don’t see any way out of it. Because they can’t hire more people.

Cynthia Rojas 16:36
Yeah, if there’s anything we learned is that this pandemic is not temporary. And that this is our way of working for however long this is going to exist. So, how do we keep the people we have now and the people that we can successfully recruit? What needs to change in the workplace? So, Nancy, you mentioned flexibility, but what else needs to change?

Nancy Varsos 17:02
I think we need to be as engaged as possible with our people. we need to think about, are we talking to our people? Are we understanding what potentially is de-energizing them? Are we asking why they’re feeling burnt out? Even if it’s a lack of people, then how do we motivate them in the small waves? Can we send them flowers? Can we give them a little something to be able to improve their work environment? What are the things that they’re looking for to create an environment that allows them to be a little less stressed and more engaged in what they’re doing? Do we bring them back to the customer? Have we been doing training and development? Have we been connecting with them outside of the work? Have we appreciated them?

Cynthia Rojas 17:55
Yeah, the amount of training, that needs to happen now. And non-profits are usually operating under limited resources. But this is an area that if you have a budget line item for professional development, you hope that not everybody uses it. That is the reality of non-profits, so that you don’t expand the entire budget in that area. But, I encourage non-profits to actually increase that substantially.

Nancy Varsos 18:28
Absolutely. Absolutely. Being able to connect with your people, being able to have your team connect with your team and realize they’re not on their own, especially if they’re still working from home and not necessarily engaging with the team. It’s so essential to bring them together in whatever way that you can, whether it be a communication style, whether it be a leadership training – just enjoying each other’s company again as we slowly go back to the work environment. How do I bring them together? Can I buy them lunch once a week? Can we do a potluck? What are the safe ways that we can convene as a group together and support one another?
One thing the pandemic has done is isolate people in the work world. There’s no what I call cubicle collaboration. There’s no ability to turn around and say, “Oh, what are your thoughts on that?” Or, you know, “I’ve got this issue I’m dealing with, I’m not quite sure what to do. Can you help me?” In this world that we’re living in, I feel like it’s a lot harder to call someone on Team spontaneously or whatever format you’re on and say, “Oh, by the way, I just was kind of trying to work out the situation. What are your thoughts?” So, we’ve lost a lot of what I call cubicle camaraderie. It’s not water cooler talk. It’s truly cubicle camaraderie, where you turn around and you engage with individuals
So, the question I would ask you to think about is, how do I reengage the individuals again? How do I bring them together? How do I build that team up to be a team, again, to know how to work with one another again? Because we haven’t worked with one another. We haven’t even asked “How was your weekend,” because in my world, I jump right into the call and we don’t have a lot of chit-chat, because you’re on call after call after call after call.

Pieta Blakely 20:31
You mentioned training, which used to be an opportunity to bring people together. And a lot of trainings were done with everybody in the conference room and discussing topics and things like that. And then because of COVID, they had to go remote, and sometimes not to modalities that brought people together. So, you might be doing your own online self-paced course and people just look at it as extra work. And they have so much on their plates.

Nancy Varsos 21:06
Breakout rooms have been the best invention in the entire world. I’ve done a lot of different trainings, communication style team building trainings, I will say I was back in a classroom three weeks ago, and it was the best feeling in the whole wide world. But those breakout rooms bring out a lot of conversation with people that you might not talk with every day.

Pieta Blakely 21:28
Yeah. Yeah. One of the other things that you talked about was making the workplace a little bit less stressful. And we have talked on this show a lot about structural care, and how the idea of self-care places the burden on the worker or on the individual, to make themselves healthy, or, you know, to reduce their stress level. How can we put that burden on the organization more and on the individual less? And I think that’s part of what you’re talking about Nancy, is everybody is super stressed, if we didn’t have the capacity to do those things two years ago, we certainly don’t now. So, you know, what are some of the things that organizations are putting in place that you think are beneficial in reducing that level of stress?

Nancy Varsos 22:23
I think sometimes again, what I find with most organizations, when I go in, and they’re looking for help, they haven’t asked the question. They haven’t talked to their employees. They haven’t engaged their employees. And so, it starts with asking the question, because what might be, typically the stress is too many meetings, it’s I’ve been online all day, it’s, I’ve got to juggle home, and I’ve got to juggle here. And my child school just got shut down. And now what am I going to do where my child’s quarantined for 14 days? So, what are some of the things that the organization can do? Can they be a little more flexible with time off? Can they think about how to manage the timing? And can you serve your customers in the evening? Or can you serve your customers early morning? Or your clients? What are the different ways that we can look at the business and say, what can we do best to meet in the middle with both the client and our employees? What are small things that make an employee smile? And maybe it’s just a smile. Maybe it’s just a thank you. And maybe we really haven’t thanked people because we’re not there and integrating with them in the same way that we were in the past.

Cynthia Rojas 23:42
What’s so interesting, first of all, Nancy, you mentioned, like five things that we’re actually doing shows on because you’re right on. We’re doing a whole show on what are you doing with your employee survey? Right, this is the time to really listen at those answers and responses. So, thank you for lifting that. But it’s so extraordinary. I asked you the question, and we didn’t talk about productivity. No one mentioned accountability. I mean, these things are important. But these times require different forms of leadership. This is not the time to micromanage. This is not the time to hold people to this exact hour of working as flexibility is important. Go ahead, Pieta.

Pieta Blakely 24:34
That was such a concern at the beginning of the pandemic, people were so worried. When are we going to know people are working and the reality is you didn’t know they were working before. No, you knew you knew they were in the building, but that was about it.

Nancy Varsos 24:51
I think it’s actually gone the other way. People are working too hard versus not hard enough; that we’re Finding that people are burnt out because they never turn it off, because it’s sitting in their living room and you can hear the email come through, you can hear the team’s call come through. And I do it myself. The phone is always on. It doesn’t matter whether I’m scheduled to work or not . You’re available and we expect it now and I’ve noticed when I go back to the office I feel like I’m unproductive because all I do is chit chat all day. Wherewe used to, that’s how we used to function. We actually collaborated. Wetalked to one another and I leave the office I got these 10 things because I haven’t been sitting in front of my computer. So, it’s that adaption of it’s okay not to be online all day long. You can be productive not being online.

Cynthia Rojas 25:50
And I think Pieta has a book. Remind me, Pieta. We could getbetter at building relationships through Zoom or through these web portals. It just is what it is and I was thinking about this. We’ve mentioned this. I think we’ve mentioned this before. Pieta, myself and the other co-host, Rebecca, have only seen each other three times I think. Three times. We’ve been on this show for a year-and-a-half and we knew each other six months prior. In two years we’ve seen each other three times. I talk to Pieta all the time. For me, Pieta and Rebecca are friends. We’ve been able to build this relationship,
and it’s really interesting because for me, relationships get built over food… you
know, and you sit down and you relax and you talk about things. I’ve had to learn how to do that over Zoom.

Pieta Blakely 26:53
And you said early on, Cynthia, because there’s no hallway, you know, walking into the meeting together or leaving the meeting together, that you have to build that chatting time into the agenda.

Rebecca Tuttle 27:05
Yeah, it might be simple as everybody has to give one thing that they did over the weekend or you come up with a new rule that you start the meeting with – five minutes of meet and greet and it’s mandatory. It’s not something about oh we’re waiting for so-and-so to join. It’s we need that ability to just calm down, regenerate, rejuvenate um because I think that’s part of the problem, is that we get so regimented in this world.

Cynthia Rojas 27:42
Yeah. Yeah, it’s so hard. So, we’re about two minutes. We have two minutes left. Nancy, words of wisdom for non-profits. I mean, they’re really hurting. People are rethinking their lines. Non-profits have to adhere to the demand – increased demand for services and their resources continue to be limited in terms of pay and salaries. What are your recommendations for non-profit leaders as we continue to live in these times?

Nancy Varsos28:12
i think it’s to re-evaluate of how you grab the human being behind the job. So, how do I market to the human being side? Typically non-profits are about the human being. So, how do i engage that human being within my ad for a job, within my promotion for a job and am i giving the human being the human side of the job or am i too worried to fill a slot? And I think the more that you can get to the heart of the individual the more likely they’re going to want to work for you because your mission as well as your values to your employees should be about the heart of that person

Cynthia Rojas 29:03
Wow, you’ve said the word human being a
Lot, so I’m hearing. I’m hearing it, and what occurred to me as i was listening to you is that job descriptions or job postings really take a lot of effort because we want to put the
position in the organization in the best light. But, what I hear you saying is that the way that gets translated is instead of me telling you how great the organization is and how wonderful we’re doing our work, why don’t I make that job description about what’s it like to work with us now? How do we take care of our employees? How are we bringing the human side into the work?

Nancy Varsos 29:52
And how you can contribute to the organization, how you can contribute
to the mission. So, it can be about the contributions you make to the
organization versus your key responsibilities.

Cynthia Rojas 30:06
Right. Yeah. Yeah. But also, we get it and we’re paying attention to our employees and that’s what people want.

So, thank you. These are different times and it calls for different forms of leadership. Nancy, you are wrapping up our five-week series on everything related to human resources, recruitment, retention, the great resignation. And so, I thank you for coming back on the show. I’m sure you will be back. Pieta, this was exciting. I’ve learned so much.

Pieta Blakely 30:36
Yeah, this has been fantastic.

Cynthia Rojas 30:41
It has been and so, we’re starting a new topic that’s going to run about five or six weeks starting next Friday, so stay tuned on Coffee Time with Masterminds. Fridays at 10 30 a.m. Thank you so much. Bye.

Pieta Blakely 30:54
Have a great weekend, everybody.

Pieta Blakely

About Pieta Blakely

I help mission-based organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well. I started my nonprofit career as a teacher in workforce development and adult basic education. It was important work and I was worried that we didn’t really know if we were doing it well. In the process of trying to answer that question, I got a Masters in Education and a PhD in Social Policy, and became an evaluator.

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