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Retention is top of mind for employers and service practitioners. Supervisors and HR departments are both concerned with turnover rates to try to decrease loss due to recruiting, training, and productivity and to improve work culture. Employers often cite absenteeism as the common cause for turnover, usually observing transportation, personal health, or childcare as consistent barriers. Service providers and program managers want to see their participants thrive on their employment pathway and record positive impact metrics on the effectiveness of their program.

Challenges for social enterprise workers

So why is retention such a challenge? For many individuals that we work with, they are surpassing multiple barriers such as a lack of hard and soft skills, personal challenges, and a history of inconsistent job history. Social Enterprises work to address these barriers, but leaving the supportive work environment poses a challenge for many. The reality is, most of these individuals are still low income workers, they must now navigate the approaching benefit cliff, and their new work environment.

The challenges for many workers continue to be daunting once they leave the enterprise:

  • Still finding economically mobility
  • Benefit cliffs
  • Financial and logistical challenges associated with work
  • Significant workplace demands and bad bosses

Social enterprise participant employees faces additional challenges:

  • Less supportive workplace than one at SE
  • Conflicting commitments/mandates
  • May have few role models and limited or no peer support
  • Housing instability
  • Potential relapses
  • The demographics of many social enterprise participants may put them at additional risks, potentially reflecting some pre-existing biases

What do we mean by “retention”?

For our purpose here, we are defining retention as the post-employment time period: the transition from subsidized to unsubsidized employment. This may mean advancement within the social enterprise or placement in a competitive employer. It could also mean post-secondary educational opportunities.

Essentially,  we are measuring the response to the question:

Are you still currently employed or in school?

Retention Services vs. Retention Tracking

Social Enterprises can approach this phase in two primary ways: tracking and continued services. Retention tracking seeks only to measure whether an individual is employed at certain benchmarks after exiting the program. Retention services are intentionally provided in the post-employment phase to prevent backtracking, incentivize success, facilitate re-employment, and/or support in building a better future for the individual.

Retention tracking seeks to only measure whether a former social enterprise employee is employed or not once they exit the enterprise. Generally, former employees are no longer considered program participants within the social enterprise.

Retention services are services offered to former social enterprise employees to prevent backtracking, incentivize success, facilitate re-employment, and/or support in building a better future for the participant. Generally, former employees are still considered program participants within the social enterprise. Services are typically offered for 6 months – 2 years post-exit, and are often provided by workforce partners of the social enterprise

It is important to frame what success means for this population and create realistic outcome targets. In REDF’s past portfolio, we discovered that 51% of individuals were employed one year after follow-up, that social enterprises increased both economic and life stability outcomes- 44% becoming stably housed, and that post employment supports were extremely important. 2/3 of participants reported receiving retention supports from the social enterprise and post-employment supports of any kind were associated with increased likelihood of having stable housing, more income, lower depression rates one year after employment at the social enterprise began.