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Why Church Secretaries Quit

While most church secretaries and administrative assistants love their job, they feel underpaid and think the need for more income or simply retiring would be the chief reasons they would leave their church position. Neither income nor retirement, however, is the main reason church secretaries or administrative assistants quit.

Incompatible working relationships affect more church office workers than either income or retirement when it comes to making a decision to quit. This was true when I first began researching this issue in 1993, and it still remains true today. Here are factors that affect the decision to resign from the church:

1. Incompatible work relationships. Few secretaries expect poor working relationships to exist at the church. Yet, for over one-third of all secretaries who quit their job, relationship problems contributed to the decision to leave.

2. Need for more income. Clearly, income affects the decision of many church secretaries to change jobs. Plus it cuts across all groups of church secretaries, regardless of years of service or the size or setting of the church.

The need for more income often is not an issue at first, but grows in importance over time. This is especially true for secretaries who are single parents, have children going to college, are approaching retirement, or who face growing financial needs within their families.

3. Stress. Stress was almost as important as income in deciding to quit one's job at the church. Our research indicates that secretaries who have worked in both business settings and the church find the church to be more stressful. Furthermore, full-time secretaries experience higher levels of stress than do part-time secretaries.

4. Planning to retire. This is a predictable reason accounted for 20 percent of the departures.

5. More appealing job, moving away, and family reasons. In 1993 less than two percent of church secretaries felt they would quit working at the church because they found a more appealing job. That has now grown to 12 percent, but both groups underestimated the reality of what actually happens. About 21 percent who quit say they leave the church for that very reason. That is the same percent that leave because they are moving away. Fifteen percent quit on the basis of family reasons.

Factors affecting the decision to quit: Reasons secretaries think they might quit: Reasons secretaries actually quit:
Need more income 40% 35%
Too much stress 20% 29%
Incompatible work relationships 20% 38%
Overworked 11% 17%
More appealing job 12% 21%
Desire for more free time 24% 11%
Planning to retire 37% 20%
Health reasons 26% 12%
Moving away 27% 21%
Family reasons 23% 15%
Changing interests 8% 10%

6. Overworked. About one of every six secretaries who quit feel overworked. This is a reduction from 1993 when it was one in five.

7. Health reasons. Health reasons had about the same impact as the desire for more free time, affecting about 12 percent of those resigning, up from 10 percent in 1993.

8. Desire for more free time. This factor affects about one of every nine secretaries who quit.

9. Changing interests. Only 10 percent of those moving on say this is a factor.

Conclusion. Churches that build a sense of teamwork, nurture relationships, address compensation concerns, and intentionally work at lowering stress provide an environment that can contribute to a long and healthy working relationship between office staff members and the church. As with most jobs, employee neglect contributes to employees moving on.

This article first appeared in Church Office Today in March of 2009.

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