Making the Case
Healthy and supportive working environments communicate respect. Burnout is less likely to occur when staff feel that the organization cares about their overall well-being: physical, mental and emotional.
“One of my low points in a social justice job was when my trash-picked chair had 2 of 3 wheels, my cubicle got no sunlight, mice ran around underfoot, and I sometimes had to slap my computer monitor repeatedly to get it to wake up.”— Betsy Leondar-Wright
“When organizers have to contend with poor work conditions, it can be demoralizing and sow seeds of doubt about their efforts—and that in turn can impact the energy they can put forth toward any given campaign.”— Case Study Interview
[I am] “definitely dealing with way more anxiety, depression because of the movement work.”— Case Study Interview
“It’s all connected. If I’m not feeling that my overall wellbeing is as good, I’m not going to be able to do the work as well, and the quality of the work is going to suffer.”— Case Study Interview
Questions to consider to create a safe and supportive workplace:
- Is anything in the work environment harming or demoralizing staff?
- How can fun and a sense of community be nurtured in the working environment?
How to address care in the workplace
Sustainable and aspirational solutions to problematic practices
Inadequate office furniture and equipment, bad lighting, chemicals and poor air quality harm employees’ bodies.
Offices and other worksites need clean air, adequate bathrooms, safe drinking water and a lack of squalor and vermin.
Get periodic ergonomics assessments from an occupational safety and health organization, such as a local NCOSH affiliate.
Working remotely puts some employees and contractors in inadequate physical environments, at home, in their cars, etc.
Buy remote workers ergonomic furniture or laptops needed to comfortably work from home; pay their extra utilities (e.g., Internet and electricity).
Don’t assume that organizers have adequate cars; rent cars for staff if needed.
If budget allows, buy cars for organizers who need to drive around the community (or ask donors for used cars to loan to staff).
The movement martyr culture, glorifying overwork, leads organizers and other staff to feel that it’s better for campaigns if they neglect self-care; some think that’s what managers want from them.
Support and encourage self-care for all employees. Offer exercise and/or meditation onsite. Put self-care on staff meeting agendas so staff can share their ways of preventing burnout.
Communicate clearly and often that staff well-being is a priority.
Offer a wellness benefit that staff can use for gym memberships, therapy, etc.
Organizing can feel like relentless, grim work with only long-term rewards.
A healthy organizational culture balances serious work focus with laughter and light-hearted fun. Strive to create a sense of community.
Make the office an enjoyable place, with uplifting art representing the mission and the community, and comfortable spaces for breaks. Free food can raise morale.
Encourage staff creativity and incorporate the arts into the workplace and special events: music, visual art, poetry and spoken word.
Schedule fun excursions for annual retreats or post-campaign recovery days. Make sure all staff are comfortable with the type of fun planned.
If some staff work off-site and some on-site, avoid the hybrid model of some people Zooming in to a social time designed for in-person participation. There are many remote team-building activities; if anyone is remote, everyone should participate electronically.
If space allows, equip the office with equipment for fun breaks, such as a pingpong table.
Offer affordable perks such as museum and gym passes, and public transit subsidies.
Consider benefits that recognize obstacles that staff from marginalized backgrounds may face, such as debt forgiveness for education, medical or carceral. There are a range of taxable and nontaxable fringe that can help meet retention and equity goals.
Employers don’t always realize that some employees struggle with mental illness, substance abuse, family crises and other stresses, and so don’t offer referrals or support.
Gather information about affordable resources staff in trouble can turn to, and make these referral lists easy to access without disclosing a need.
Consider an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) so that employees can get confidential referrals. Check for quality, as some programs are inadequate or overpriced.
Contributions of organizers and other lower-level staff go unacknowledged.
Frequently give awards, newsletter profiles and other recognition to staff at all levels, especially at the end of a campaign.
In recognition of special effort and contributions, give gift cards and other perks.