Retention is the key

In November, the whole of UNISON will be pulling together again as we go for growth with our regular recruitment and retention push – this time, we’ll be focussing on retaining members once they’ve joined.

You know the mantra by now, but it’s always worth repeating. UNISON was widely predicted to die out during the years of austerity as public service jobs were slashed. But in the face of all the predictions, we recruited strongly throughout the job losses to keep UNISON going.

And in the past year, we’ve actually started to grow, becoming the UK’s biggest union in the process last year. But the need to recruit is always for a reason. More members recruited means more public workers protected and more strength for our union.

The last two campaigns – Grovember 2018 and Go for Growth in May this year –  saw us recruit and retain more members, helping to turn our membership figures around. So we’re pushing at an open door here, people! We know we can do it.

Growing big and strong

So, we’re going to Go for Growth again this November and everyone at every level of the union can play their part. UNISON Centre will support regions and branches for a whole month of recruitment and retention activity.

We’d like branches and regions to evaluate, revise and repeat what worked well before. You know what worked for you. If regions can share their plans with the centre, we can plan initiatives to support you.

Let’s try a few new things too. We’re thinking of a balance of about 90/10. So 90% of your plan could be tried and trusted methods, but think about that other 10% — and try something different.

Retention attention

We all know that the last few years have been difficult ones for our union. We’ve had a hostile government intent on cutting public spending and the jobs of the people who provide our services.

That’s meant that we have lost a lot of longstanding members of the union. We’ve done well to raise recruitment levels, but sometimes it feels like pouring water into a leaky bucket. Many people in the union are focussing on retention and a national working group has been set up to look at this. It’s a complex picture, but here’s some of what we know so far.

Don’t wait until someone is thinking of leaving UNISON before you try and intervene to stop them—that’s a very difficult task. If they’ve already got to the point of actively thinking of leaving, members are far less likely to be persuaded to change their mind.

We have started regular research with leavers on why they leave, how they leave and what they think of us. This is starting to build a picture of what we can do to retain members.

Some members choose to leave because in some way UNISON has not met their expectations or they are under severe financial pressure. Some have no choice due to a change of circumstances.<

What is important is to ensure the largest possible number of members have a good experience of being in UNISON, so that we meet their expectations and they do not choose to leave.

Where members do not have a choice because their circumstances have changed, we should make the process as positive as possible to improve the likelihood of them potentially rejoining in the future or recommending us to friends, family and colleagues. Satisfied leavers can still be powerful advocates for the union.

Currently, we’ve identified three broad areas where we can make a difference and will be developing work to cover:

  • transactional processes – ensuring members’ records are up to date, contact details are accurate and financial collection is managed properly;
  • engagement – making sure members hear from us and are reminded of the benefits of their membership;
  • service provision – ensuring members can access high-quality services quickly and easily, while complaints or concerns are dealt with swiftly and communicated well.

Some of these areas can be improved relatively quickly, but others will take longer.

Sign-up and retain

The key message is that the secret to retention is to start as soon as the member joins.

Don’t wait until someone is thinking of leaving UNISON before you try and intervene to stop them—that’s a very difficult task. If they’ve already got to the point of actively thinking of leaving, members are far less likely to be persuaded to change their mind.

Instead, the bulk of our efforts would be better spent on making sure members feel that their union is active, successful, interested in them and speaking up on their behalf. Staying in touch with members and talking to them about issues that matter to them is the best way to retain membership.

To assist branches with things they can do to help retention, a series of supporting materials, tools and tips will be provided for November.

Five things your branch can do

There is something for everyone to do in their workplaces, whether you have a few minutes or are planning a whole campaign.

1. Get set up to make welcome phone calls to recent joiners. We know this increases retention and, last time around, branches reported that this was a rewarding and positive experience for them as well as the new joiners. Win-win.

Remind members of the benefits of being a UNISON member – it’s great to be in UNISON.

We’ve set up a system within the branch membership system, WARMS, that will help to do this in a structured way so you don’t duplicate effort by calling the same members repeatedly – and it’s also GDPR compliant. We’ll provide advice and guidance.

2. Plan some visible activity in the branch – it could be a workplace walkabout, a recruitment stall, a social activity, or a campaign around anything from car parking to climate change. Being seen to be active and talking to members and potential members will make a difference. But remember to wear your UNISON-branded t-shirts or fleeces and look smart and professional (like your union!).

3. Order UNISON diaries for your members or new joiners. You can send them out as a Christmas thank you for members. You can do that at

4. Update your branch noticeboards with some lively, colourful material. Make your UNISON noticeboard look like the welcoming, colourful, vibrant union that members are part of!

5. Remind members of the benefits of being a UNISON member – whether you send out a newsletter; use email or social media or pin posters up in the workplace, the message should be clear – it’s great to be in UNISON.

And remember that those benefits include our award-winning legal service, which, in 2018, won £32.8min compensation for personal injury cases for our members (in both work and non work-related cases) and their family members (for non work-related cases). We also have money-off offers and deals, UNISON Living partners and loads more!

And five ways we can help

1. There will be more great member-only offers and deals – whether it’s money off theatre and theme park trips or fantastic deals from our long-term affinity partners, these “added extra” benefits can be a great, positive way to talk about the value of being a union member.  We’ll provide downloadable resources so you can promote them locally.

2.  A PowerPoint presentation, short video content, poster and graphics will be available for you to use promoting the benefits of being in UNISON— whether its high profile legal cases or school uniform grants; successful action or compensation wins. We’ll parcel up some of the best reasons and create promotional materials you can adapt and use locally.

3.  If you are active on social media, join us and amplify the message by being part of our planned content calendar and using our specially-created assets like short films, graphics and artwork.

4.  We’ve got a host of core recruitment and retention materials you can order now online from our new shop or if you want giveaways and promo items, use UNISON’s licensed supplier TC Branding.

5. We’re running TV and online advertising throughout September and October to pump-prime recruitment in the run-up to the Go for Growth campaign in November.

And if you’ve got any more ideas for things that could support you to Go for Growth in November, let us know.

Get in touch at