When you think of a healthy work environment, what do you picture? I’ve always imagined a fictionalized version of the Runner’s World magazine office.
Happy employees high five each other as they head back into the office, slightly flushed from a post-lunch team run. The light and airy kitchen is full of fruits, vegetables, and Terry in accounting’s latest homemade vegan protein bars. Staff sit (and stand) at adjustable desks with cubicles full of yoga balls, foam rollers, and mason jars full of kombucha. Meetings are structured and productive, each employee’s voice is valued, and creativity is encouraged. Everyone leaves at 5pm on the dot to go home and eat a wholesome meal with their friends and families.
Now, I have never been to the Runner’s World office, so this is a world entirely of my own making. It is decidedly unrealistic, and frankly, a bit extra. However, I am determined to unearth some real-world healthy work environments, which is why I’m so delighted to share this story with all of you!
A few weeks ago, a Facebook post from a college classmate caught my eye. There was a photo of a text conversation, and the following copy:
“If every social worker had a supervisor like Bonnie, burnout would cease to be an issue. I’m working from home in my PJs today because SELF CARE IS A BEST PRACTICE. I know how lucky I am to have the freedom to recharge when I need to and to spend most of my days in an office that feels like home with colleagues who feel like family.”
I felt like the red M&M in those holiday commercials with Santa, “He DOES exist! (They DO exist!)” Here it was, irrefutable evidence of a truly supportive workplace. I had to know more about this brilliant workplace where supervisors and direct reports were looking out for one another’s wellbeing.
Bonnie Dockham and Rosie Ingebritson are the Executive Director and Program Director (respectively) of Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor. Bonnie and Rosie were kind enough to oblige my request for an interview, and I can honestly say – to double down on the holiday entertainment analogies – like the Grinch at Christmas, my heart grew three sizes that day.
Bonnie, Rosie, and their team at Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor are truly living the mission of their organization. Their work is completely member-focused, and they treat one another with the same care that they show their members. Each employee’s opinion is valued on topics large and small.
While it’s important that staff are empowered to share voice their thoughts and opinions, Bonnie mentioned that she believes it’s more important to notice fellow employees, “We as leaders need to take time to pay attention. You learn more about what people need by watching them. I believe you should spend the time to get to know the staff.” It’s because of this attention and commitment to care that Bonnie noticed Rosie’s looming overwhelm and encouraged her to stay home for the day. As it turns out, Rosie’s encouraged Bonnie to take time off before as well.
And it doesn’t stop there. Bonnie and Rosie told me that the Board exhibits this same care for staff. From the most junior staffer to the Board of Directors, respect and care for one another is a lived tenet of the organization. For example, when Bonnie transitioned from a Program Director role to her current role as Executive Director, the Board provided strong mentorship to support her.
In addition to a care-focused, collaborative environment, Cancer Support Community has cultivated a culture of flexibility. For Bonnie, who is a parent, it means she can be present for her family and work from home without guilt or judgment when needed. For Rosie, it means she can work a few extra long days to “flex” a Friday, and truly disconnect from work when she’s out of the office.
All of this positivity has led to incredible retention. Many employees, like Rosie, started as interns and returned as full-time staff.
So how did they do it? Do they have an extensive employee handbook with the “rules of civility?” Do they screen out candidates with a rigorous test for empathy in first round interviews? Nope. They believe the key lies in consistency.
“The mission drives the way we interact with each other, and the way we interact with members,” Rosie told me. There’s no dissonance between the message of care, and the behavior.
I asked each of them to share their best piece of advice for cultivating a healthy work environment. Their answers were both simple and profound.
Bonnie says, “Be aware of yourself. Check what you are bringing into a situation and ask, ‘How am I contributing to what’s happening around me.’ Be intentional about what you build.”
Rosie’s advice, “Assume the best in your colleagues and supervisors. Believe that everybody is there for the right reason.”
I hope you’re as inspired by their supportive environment as I am, and that you’re able to take their recommendations with you into your workplace!
(If you know an exceptional workplace that can teach us all something about wellbeing, email me at email@example.com to feature it here!)