We are all familiar with the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions to start self-improvement habits or stop unhealthy ones. But what if everyone in a nonprofit pledged to initiate an activity that promoted organizational wellbeing and resulted in improved productivity?
As we write in our book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, workplace activities that foster an ethos of “WE-care,” the organizational version of “Self-Care,” are typically group undertakings, activities that help staff work together to acquire self-care habits and practices.
Here are nine ideas for New Year’s resolutions to help your nonprofit build resilience in 2017:
Compete for Sleep
Sleep in the workplace may seem like an oxymoron, and sleeping on the job can be a bad thing. But without enough sleep, employees are unable to focus or perform simple tasks. They also lack patience.
Create a friendly competition at your organization to encourage staff to get more sleep. Meka S. Sales, health care program officer at The Duke Endowment, reports that many employees at the Endowment wear trackers that monitor not only fitness activity but also sleep. The organization holds monthly challenges including a sleep challenge. Participants said they gained a lot of awareness of their sleep habits and could improve them.
Eating at your desk is unhealthy and isolating, and yet so many nonprofit workers squeeze in more work by doing just that. Build community and connections among staff with communal meals.
Amy Sample Ward of NTEN noticed that colleagues were often eating at their desks. “So we decided to have a weekly communal healthy brown bag lunch on Thursdays. We have remote staff, so we bring them in via a Google Hangout, and they join us at the table.”
Get Fit Together
Exercise programs are probably one of the most common initiatives or employee benefits implemented to promote workplace wellbeing. Be creative about the fitness activities and also about how you equip your office to encourage exercise.
Crisis Response Network in Tempe, Arizona, transformed an old training room into an on-site workout room after employees said they would use it to “let off steam” from their stressful work. The organization’s health insurance carrier, Cigna, covered the cost of the equipment for the onsite gym under the organization’s plan.
Stand Up at Work
“Sitting is the new smoking,” according to Dr. James Levine, who studies the destructive health effects of sitting too much. Gina Schmeling from Hazon did her part to combat the ill effects when she ordered a Varidesk and used it at the office in an open, shared space.
“It was often immediately noticeable to visitors and people arriving to work if I had it up,” says Schmeling. “When people were curious, I showed them how it worked, and told them how much I enjoyed it.” Whenever she travels, Gina invites fellow staff members to log in at her computer and stand at work.
Walking as Work
Many workplaces consider walking a “break activity” instead of part of e actual work. Walking provides many work-related benefits beyond fitness and energy boosting, including creativity, leadership development, and relationship building.
Karen Bloom, chief advancement officer for Project Kesher, realized staff behavior needed to reflect the changes they were trying to make in the world. Bloom leads a monthly walk for staff at other companies and organizations in their office building. She does this rain or shine, or even snow.
"If we are sitting in a staff meeting and trying to tackle a problem, I get them to stop, and I say, ‘Let's put this on our hiking meeting agenda.’ We will go in the woods with our list and brainstorm ideas for campaigns or programs,” Bloom explains.
Bringing compassion and caring into the workplace increases employee wellbeing. Scientists at Stanford University actually held a conference on “Compassion and Business” and discussed how caring about your own wellbeing and caring for the wellbeing of others is not in conflict with work goals. Giving kudos is a great way to care for coworkers.
Taryn Degnan, former communications staff for Common Sense Media, said staff there did something they called "SURPRAISE!" Colleagues wrote praises for a coworker on Post-It notes that were then stuck to that employee’s desk and computer.
Degnan recalls, “It was an awesome way to have your spirits lifted and feel good about your place in the office—especially coming from many [people] you never talk to.”
Melanie Duppins of DonorsChoose says their “people-first” culture is the number one reason why employees have long tenures at the organization. DonorsChoose uses the YouEarnedIt platform, which allows staff to give each other shout outs and accumulate points. Recipients can redeem the points for cash donations to DonorsChoose classrooms.
Research shows that the way employees treat each other impacts stress levels. Most of us are probably aware of techniques for managing toxic relationships in the workplace. But there are also ways to foster a positive work environment.
At the Cara Program, a Chicago-based nonprofit that helps adults affected by homelessness and poverty get and keep quality jobs, stakeholders engage in a daily ritual that evolved organically over the organization’s 25-year history. Every morning, clients, staff, and guests gather in a circle in the organization’s meeting room and answer a question of the day, such as “Who or what gives you great joy and why?” or “What has happened in your life that has motivated you to change?” Participants share inspiring stories of personal growth and change. The morning ritual is not a visual show for donors but a chance for all to reflect on what makes everyone human. Staff and visitors alike say the experience is energizing.
Henry Tims, executive director of 92nd Street Y and co-founder of Giving Tuesday, says a staff member, Rabbi Peter Rubenstein, leads a weekly Kiddush every Friday. Rabbi Rubenstein’s role is to oversee Jewish Life at the Y, something at the core of the organization’s work. The weekly staff ritual is an opportunity to step back and connect with colleagues. Tims, who is not Jewish, observes, “It provides such a simple but meaningful moment and has attracted not just Jewish colleagues but those of a range of faiths. Many look forward to it all week, just to take the chance to stop and be together. It reminded me of how powerful these rituals can be.”
Mindfulness as a Team
Offering an option to take a break for mindfulness activities at work can benefit everyone on your team.
Caroline Contillo, an Idealist staff member in New York City who is trained as a mindfulness instructor, leads a weekly mindfulness break at the office. She uses an empty conference room, arranges chairs in a circle, and guides people through the techniques. There is time for questions and comments at the end. The whole practice takes about 30 minutes.
Getting creative at work can help staff get out of unhealthy ruts and spark fresh thinking while giving everyone’s brains some downtime to recharge. Creativity activities don’t have to be time-consuming or complicated.
Susie Bowie, executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, says the organization she was with previously—Community Foundation of Sarasota County—put up a white board in the break room. John Annis, senior vice president of community investment, started writing the beginning of a story on it. Staff members were encouraged to add another three to four words to it. This simple activity continued and not only built something funny or interesting for everyone to enjoy but also encouraged collaboration in a creative activity. The cues were the whiteboard and dry erase markers.
It has been a stressful year and we in the nonprofit sector need to collectively build our resilience muscles to be ready for whatever 2017 might bring our way. Are you ready to make and keep a happy healthy New Year’s resolution for your nonprofit? Come join us and other nonprofit professionals sharing ways to become more resilient in 2017.
Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman are the co-authors of The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout. Beth Kanter @kanter was named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and is the award-winning author of The Networked Nonprofit books. She is an internationally acclaimed master trainer and speaker.
Aliza Sherman @alizasherman is a web and social media pioneer; founder of Cybergrrl, Inc., the first women-owned, full-service Internet company; and Webgrrls International, the first Internet networking organization for women. She is a motivational keynote speaker and the author of 11 books, including Social Media Engagement for Dummies.