A Chemistry Conversation with Tiffany Henning
The departure of a staff member from the church is always an emotional and difficult journey. It can be tempting to not want to invest too much time, energy, and finances in someone who is leaving, but this would actually be detrimental for both the departing person as well as those remaining on staff.
Tiffany Henning, leader of HR Ministry Solutions, talks with Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, about what she is seeing in the Church in this season and how to care well for your church staff ... even when it's time to let them go.
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Matt Steen: Well hey, it’s Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, today having a conversation with Tiffany Henning. Tiffany leads HR Ministry Solutions, which is a great ministry helping churches figure out their HR stuff. So Tiffany, thanks for taking some time to talk.
Tiffany Henning: Absolutely. I like how you say “stuff” because that’s really what it is.
Matt Steen: Yeah, and most of us church people, we have no idea what HR stuff is, but that’s why we’re grateful we’ve got people like you just to say, “Hey Tiffany, come rescue us.” Right?
Tiffany Henning: So funny. I say it’s like Legos, you don’t see it’s there until you step on it and then it’s really painful.
Matt Steen: That’s so accurate. That is so accurate.
Tiffany Henning: All the parents out there are like, “Yes!”
Matt Steen: Best description ever. So let’s dive in. You’re working with churches all over the country helping them figure out their HR stuff. What are you learning about the church right now? What are you learning about in this season?
Tiffany Henning: Yeah, that’s a really good question. It’s been really interesting to see how things have shifted. Like last year, they were scrambling. They were treading water. They were trying to figure out how to keep things together. So what we’ve really seen in the last couple of months since we hit 2021 is that most churches have stepped back and this point and realized, okay hey, this is not a short-term thing. This is a long-term thing. And not only is it a long-term thing, but there’s pieces of this that are basically future forward. The way that we do the “big C” church is now changing in a lot of ways. It’s really interesting, a lot of them are restructuring. They’re taking this time to step back. We’re in a new year now, we need to restructure sometime having as many kids ministry staff as we did. It’s a new world so we’re going to have to shift the way we do things. They’re really kind of going back to the drawing board with their staff. They’re restructuring it, which unfortunately sometimes means laying off certain people. It also means hiring different positions, a lot of the more creative type positions, the tech positions. And then with that, we see them actually then, okay now that everyone’s been wearing 27 hats this last year because everyone just jumped in the midst of it and did whatever needed to be done, now let’s redefine roles and write our job descriptions now so we have a solid foundation to start this year with.
Matt Steen: Wow. That’s, wow, that’s a lot.
Tiffany Henning: It is.
Matt Steen: So much change in this last year. You said something that you’re starting to see churches that are starting to restructure or reorg. Part of that is hiring. Part of that is letting people go. Here we go, this is some of that painful stepping on the Lego stuff with HR, right? Because nobody likes to let people go. What advice do you have for churches that are in that situation? How do they lean into that well?
Tiffany Henning: You know what, that is a fantastic question. To be honest, that’s part of the heart and passion of what we do. Because it’s not easy, and it’s especially not easy if someone’s been a great person, a great employee, great heart for God, but it’s just not working or you just don’t have a position anymore for them. So what we tell churches is two things, kind of three. Which number one is care is key. Care is totally key. We need to, “What would Jesus do?” Hate to throwback to the 90’s, but it really is. And I tell churches, throw as much money at it as you can. It doesn’t stop the hurt, even if you have totally legit reasons. But at the same time, the worry is, am I going to find another job right now in this COVID environment. So we’re like, give them money so they can take a step back, so they can breathe. Even if there’s performance issues, you’re not just giving money for them, you’re giving money for their family or whoever else is dependent on them. You’re kind of taking care of them as brothers and sisters in Christ. The other piece is, and the care doesn’t stop the moment they stop working for you. You need to be very intentional after the fact to keep them from going sideways. And then the other piece is communication. You have to communicate as soon as you know. You have to communicate well. Bring them in as part of the conversation as you’re determining certain things because then they can take some ownership of it, know what’s going on. There’s no secrets out there and they feel like the church is being transparent and being as caring as possible in a difficult situation.
Matt Steen: So go back to the piece about the money. One of the things that so many people forget is that pastors are not necessarily eligible for unemployment insurance. That’s something that we need to keep in the back - spent some time earlier today with somebody who was a COVID casualty and has no unemployment insurance or anything like that. Is there a rule of thumb when it comes to how much money you throw at it? There’s all sorts of legends and myths about this. What do you typically advise a church?
Tiffany Henning: Well, okay, so the only type of rule of thumb that I’ve ever heard is a week for every year they’ve worked for you. I’ve heard a couple - not a whole lot - a couple organizations that say a month for every year that they’ve worked for you. My rule of thumb is never - never never, never, never should it be less than a month. Never. Because it takes them that long to revise their resume - if they were to go get a job immediately, they would have to revise their resume, they have to do the interview process. Especially if it’s for another church or ministry, those are slow processes. They don’t hire the next day. And then it’s going to take even longer for them to start work and then another 2-4 weeks until they get paid or get insurance. So rule of thumb, always a month. I am a fan of 2-3 months to be honest with you because I feel like the tis reasonably enough time for them to decompress, figure things out, their next steps. Sometimes they make career changes. And the other key thing is the insurance. If they’re on your health insurance and there’s a way to continue them on, that is a big thing, especially if they have a family that they have that on.
Matt Steen: Yeah, and that’s always the thing. Some of the churches we work with, it’s like, if you can do 90 days that’s great, but if you can hang onto the insurance, if you can do that for six months, that’s awesome. Because so much of what we’re seeing - you’ve seen this. People can be out for 6-12 months before they get onto staff at that next church. And again, without the unemployment insurance, that’s a long way to go. To your point, it typically takes about 90 days to pick yourself up and say, “What just happened?” and get ready to dive back in.
Tiffany Henning: On the same thought - I know we’re trying to keep this short, but me also throw in what we really see is that most of the time, a lot of times when they’re laying off or restructuring, the people who get the short end of the stick, it’s not just they’re position sometimes. There may have been a little bit of a performance issue. Maybe not enough to fire them straight out, but there’s a performance issue. So that always gets a little messier and there’s hurt, so I like that extra buffer as well because I think that person needs to process through everything, and some healing needs to happen before they jump into another ministry job. Otherwise, they’re just bringing all their baggage with them.
Matt Steen: Absolutely, absolutely. So as we look to the horizon, what are you seeing that pastors need to be aware of for the next 90 days, six months, or a year?
Tiffany Henning: Communication is key. You can do employee surveys until the cows come home, and 95% of the time communication is going to be the number one pain point of employees. So just communicate, communicate, communicate. And when you think you communicated a ton, communicate twice as much. With everything. And especially people are not on site. So if you’ve got all these people remote and everything, you need to be extremely intentional on their spiritual walks, on their mental and emotional well-being, on their collaboration, as well as just them feeling connected culture-wise with the organization.
Matt Steen: That’s great, that’s great. Well Tiffany, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate this. Tiffany - I’ll link off to all of her stuff down below - but you were telling me that you’ve got a guide when churches are going through some of this restructuring. You’ve got a guide to help them figure out, okay so we’re going to create a new role, here’s how to put together a job description. Tell me a little bit about that.
Tiffany Henning: Yeah. We have a job description guide that includes some templates, some action words, some layouts, suggested on how you should do things. Because a lot of people do job descriptions and they won’t put a signature page on it. I said, oh, you have to do signatures. I know you guys have something similar to another resource that we have, which is staff transitions. When someone’s transitioning out, you guys have a transition playbook. We have something similar that really helps churches with their communication in that and help them do it well.
Matt Steen: Cool, very cool. We’ll link off to all that down below. Really, if you’ve got HR questions, if you’re struggling with an employee handbook - because frankly, nobody likes writing those.
Tiffany Henning: No.
Matt Steen: Except for Tiffany.
Tiffany Henning: No, even I don’t like writing them. I always say nobody likes writing them, but I love doing them because it creates a conversation with a church and it helps them.
Matt Steen: That’s awesome. So go check her out. We’ll link off to that down below. But Tiffany, thank you so much.
Tiffany Henning: Absolutely, thanks.