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4 Things I Have Learned About Staff Wellness

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Four Things I have Learned About Staff Wellness

I am fortunate to work for an organization that values staff and understands that doing work in the field of family violence can weigh heavy. When I meet new people in my personal life, I cringe when they ask what I do. Not because I am not proud of our work, but because once I say, “I work at a nonprofit that trains professionals who work with kids who have been traumatized,” I see the discomfort on their faces. While awareness is important, there is only so much we can share with our personal networks without bringing people down.

Now imagine doing this type of work and not being able to talk about it at home. Isn’t that what families are for? Around the dinner table we ask things like, “tell me about your day?” And that can be a difficult question to answer in our line of work.

The content of our work is another layer of stress to working full time. Add other responsibilities, families, physical and mental health issues, and it’s a wonder that we get up each day and do it over and over.

In no way have I learned everything, but with more than 25 years of supervising experience, I have learned a few things about staff wellness. Keeping good employees is hard – keeping them engaged and happy is even harder. After all these years, I have gathered a list of things that works for my organization and I want to share these with you.

1.     Put people first. People need to take care of themselves first in order to come to work every day. There are deadlines, deliverables, and important tasks that need to be completed and it can become overwhelming. If our tank is empty, we can’t think about tasks. Ask people how they are and listen. Watch interactions and conversations to look for signs of burnout. Is your extroverted staff quieter than normal? Is someone short during meetings? Are people starting their workday a little later and later every day? These are a few of the signs that your staff may be overloaded either with work or with balancing work and life. What can you do? Check workloads and make changes. Say yes to requested self-care days. Schedule fun group activities during the workday – Pictionary on Zoom, painting party, book clubs. Have a “fire drill” and let people go home early on a Friday (or a Wednesday!). Don’t be afraid to use worktime for self-care. People are the backbone of our work so we must put them first.

2.     Everyone is unique. People have different work styles, communication styles, and personal needs. As a supervisor you need to get to know your staff so you can put yourself in their shoes. Some people thrive under tight deadlines, others like to have things done before a deadline. Some people take time to build trust with co-workers, some take to new people right away. In my line of work, some people can listen to cases of trauma in a training session and come out of it excited to do more work, while others need a break mid-training. Know your team and divide the work in a way that is mindful. If you can, share your personal struggles with work situations because it reminds people that we are all human and all different. What works for one person may not work for another. 

3.     Do what you can, sometimes flexibility is as good as money. Everyone likes a raise. While working for a nonprofit on a noble cause feels good, so is being able to afford a nice vacation. As a nonprofit, we are limited to funds that are available which can be frustrating for everyone. But we need to do what we can to let staff know they are valued. Build an environment where people feel safe enough to ask for what they need. Offering flexibility holds high value. Some examples include: making the office child-friendly for parents/caregivers; hybrid work schedules that offer breaks in commute; scheduling events  around employees’ availability instead of asking them to change their life plans to travel for work; letting people leave to pick up kids from school or take an appointment; letting people working at home while they wait for a delivery or do video therapy; forming schedules around school or childcare; taking a longer lunch to check on a pet or a family member; affirming employees who require more emotional support. While these may seem simple, they send a powerful message of appreciation to your employees. As a supervisor, you acknowledge that we all live important lives outside work.

4.     Encourage creativity. People tend to leave jobs because they either feel undervalued or they are bored. Bored doesn’t always mean people are not challenged or may want to move up in an organization, sometimes people get tired of working on the same things year after year. I am a fan of innovation and believe that people doing this work every day are the best people to come up with new ideas. Some ways to engage your people might look like folding activities into meetings and asking about topics that excite them or taking time after an event to debrief and listen to your staff.  Walking meetings are another great way to get the creativity flowing. But don’t stop there, find ways to implement their suggestions. Give credit and kudos when ideas turn into reality. Nothing feels better than seeing a passion project come to life.

I know this list is not complete. I hope to keep adding to it and, if needed, making changes. But there is one thing I always keep in my mind: People stay at jobs because they feel valued, connected, and successful. An environment that prioritizes these things will support staff who want to stay and grow. This is the kind of organization I hope to continue building.