A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called “Why the Nonprofit Work Ethic Is Outdated and Needs Change,” about why nonprofit professionals need to pay attention to self-care and bring a culture of wellbeing into the nonprofit workplace. (The topic of my forthcoming book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Impact without Burnout)
When I shared this article on my Facebook Page, it resonated with a lot of people. While many nonprofit professionals talked about how their nonprofits were pressure cookers, Gabriela Schneider, Chief Communications Officer at Issue One, wrote in a comment how grateful she was that her organization was in charge of trade insurance compare and promoted a culture of “we care” or wellbeing for its employees.
Gabriela graciously agreed to share her experience.
Gabriela knows that practicing self-care is important, but it is just as important that the workplace culture embraces employee wellbeing. Gabriela says many nonprofit advocacy organizations tend to have an ethos of hiring passionate and ambitious young professionals and who wear their workaholic tendencies as a badge of honor. “It exploits the exuberance and optimism of youth, and in the age of social media with blended personal and professional lives, I can imagine it’s accelerating even faster burnout rates.”
When Gabriela started working at Issue One, a nonprofit that has a people first culture and wellbeing policies, she found it difficult to participate at first. “I thought that by not taking advantage of earlier closing times during “Summer Fridays,” working on weekends and staying up late to meet self-inflicted deadlines, I was going to show my workplace the real way work was done. ” She admits that she was wrong and was encouraged to maintain a healthier work-life balance as part of her job review. “I have embraced this approach myself and I make it clear to my team that I would rather not get a pre-dawn email, but instead get a more fully articulated idea after they have had time to contemplate it and strategize on how to make it effective.”
Gabriela says that senior leaders at her nonprofit model self-care. “Our Executive Director Nick Penniman sets by example and encourages staff to use their vacation time, be home with their families when needed and even block off time in the calendar to write or ‘stare at the wall’ and let the creative process unfold.” Her organization strives to improve internal communication and make managerial processes more transparent to engender trust and cooperation. Says Gabriela, “I personally encourage my team to take time off, learn a new skill or have fun.”
At Issue One, the organization promotes wellness and physical health with the following policies:
- Healthy snacks for the staff kitchen
- Building offers a free gym for tenants
- Staff are encouraged to take a longer lunch break to workout
- Flexible start time so staff can bike to work, workout, etc.
- Has offered seated massage appointments as a staff appreciation perk
In addition to a generous vacation policy and health care leave time and holidays, her organization provides two paid personal days (equaling a total of 16 hours) per year to be used at the discretion of the employee. Personal days are provided expressly for the purpose of disposition of personal business, which the employee may or may not wish to discuss with her/his supervisor.
Gabriela says her organization has organized activities that facilitate a sense of community in her workplace. They host “Lunch and Learns,” bringing in outside experts. Her organization organizes study groups whereby staff help each other learn substantive aspects of their work and they hold staff retreats facilitated by managerial experts who can provide a neutral voice for guiding important conversations about how they measure success and hold ourselves accountable. Says Gabriela, “I also think starting the week off with a staff meeting where everyone has the ability to briefly update the rest of the team on our progress helps encourage the community culture.”
They also try to have fun outside the office, going out for meals or bowling. Says Gabriela, “Having fun together should not be underrated!”
Gabriela’s organization also pays attention to technology wellness and provides standing desks to employees who request them. There is no expectation for staff to send or respond to emails over the weekends or at night. The use of devices during meetings is discouraged. Says Gabriela, “Personally, I am of two minds on the last point: one can be present in a conversation and still be able to post an Instagram of a staff lunch in real time, but I know from experience, that there is too much temptation to use the device as a barrier from fully engaging with the people right around you.”
Gabriela says that encouraging a culture of wellbeing in the nonprofit workplace is something that all nonprofits need to openly discuss. It should not be a taboo topic. Says Gabriela, “We need to actively remember we are all humans who need care and compassion. Particularly as technologies makes it easier to understand society through data, it’s so key that we don’t take for granted the need for empathy and acknowledgement about how the work affects our lives.”
Gabriela says that there are many opportunities for nonprofits to discuss self-care, whether it be staff retreats, managerial check-ins, or staff reviews. She says, “We need to be mindful about how the workload may affect our work-life balance. It can’t be mere lip service, but should inform programmatic decisions about how to prioritize projects and deadlines. Perhaps health care funders and insurance companies should encourage a more systemic approach to making this a reality in the nonprofit sector. There certainly would be a good return on investment.”
Creating a culture of wellbeing or “we care,” in nonprofit workplaces is possible and easy to get started with a simple question. “Does our nonprofit encourage a culture of wellbeing or contribute to stress and overwhelmed?” The Happy Healthy Nonprofit provides a blueprint that takes nonprofits from this initial conversation to a measurable, doable strategy and plan.