Centering Wellbeing in Reentry—and for Good—in the Nonprofit Sector

If the idea of wellbeing is difficult to imagine in today’s uncertain times, you’re not alone.

It is no secret that the mission-driven nonprofit workforce often leads with the scarcity mindset. This is the idea that time, money, resources, or mission delivery are an ongoing race requiring self-sacrifice and superhero endurance. Some days the world really is on fire, and the nonprofit sector is charged with directly responding to physical, financial, and human resources even in precedented times. 

If we learned anything in a year of starts, stops, and social distancing, it is the critical need for the people-power of the nonprofit sector—more than 12 million individuals—to press pause for wellbeing and self-care.

Enter #SelfCare assumptions

With the term “self-care,” one may imagine the indulgence of cake and bubble baths.  The ten-billion-dollar self-care industry and #TreatYourself hashtag drive the imagery of luxury and enjoyment. While self-care is not a new concept, it was perhaps reignited by the languishing of 2020. Global survey data from Gallup notes that the world is more stressed than ever, and the anxiety of reentry is bubbling up with each mention of a “return to normal.” We must also acknowledge the impact of the extreme burnout of frontline workers, the early retirement of seasoned leaders in the sector, and the pressure on working caregivers. 

The people-power of the nonprofit sector is its most finite and valuable resource. Therefore, embracing the wellbeing needs of individuals is a critical step in flattening the curve of re-entry panic.

Flexibility as a form of wellness

The flexibility of 2020 and 2021 in many workplaces gave new meaning to work-life integration. Complying with stay-at-home orders, removing commute time, and investing in new tools to support virtual work meant teams could work from anywhere at any time. From the dining room table alongside their virtual home-schooler or from an Airbnb, many found themselves adopting flexible remote work. The change of scenery created a re-examination of space, place, and purpose for centralized workspaces and teams. 

Culturally, we’re recognizing that we can all still get work done, even at nontraditional times and in nontraditional office settings. This flexibility is likely to stick around even as our spaces open up. It seems like a win for working families, improved mental and physical health, and perhaps even the environment.

Boundaries blurred for the better 

Working from home—or living with work—alongside the people, pets, and plants of our homes became a norm. Because of this, interrupted meetings were no longer an Internet sensation, like the 2017 BBC Dad. We created virtual togetherness. We’ve managed the evolution of Zoom backgrounds. Most of us even welcomed kids, cats, and other companions on the keyboards of our ever-unstable Internet connection. 

We also learned more about our colleagues and the important aspects of their home-life. And maybe in a small way that didn’t harm the bottom line, we adjusted the “business as usual” mindset for a bit more humanness. We acknowledged that some balls can be dropped and some must be handled with care for the good of shared survival.

Wellbeing in workplace culture, starting with leadership

In the self-care discussions over the last year, a common response was, “But my supervisor expects me to work even on a sick day!” Or, additionally, “Organizational culture is different and we cannot make self-care ‘a thing’ here.” 

Leaders in high-stakes environments have their own challenges to meet goals and prioritize organizational outcomes, so the idea of self-care may seem like a new level of vulnerability. But deliberately modeling self-care at the leadership level gives an unsaid permission for others to follow suit and reinforces positive culture. And it is the place to start.

Wellbeing practices are possible, we have already proven some of them…

Imagine:

  • The practice of staying home if you are sick—better yet, truly using the time to heal rather than manage your inbox
  • Giving permission to take a mental health day without justification
  • Supporting an organization-wide rest and renewal time
  • Dedicating organizational funds into wellbeing for individuals without barriers, stipulations, or obligation 
  • Setting personal boundaries for physical and mental health, child or eldercare, household responsibilities, and acknowledging the intersection of real-life and business hours
  • Taking vacation time, and knowing when to step away, delegate, or prioritize 
  • Modeling saying ‘no’ when it really matters

The bottom line of wellbeing

The bottom line of wellbeing in the nonprofit sector is that self-care makes us better. It is better to invest in the people-power of the missions served. And the good news is that some wellbeing solutions are within reach. If anything, the last year showed us what we are capable of doing differently, whether in the moment or as a permanent pivot. 

Wellbeing for the nonprofit sector

August 19, 2021

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