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Taking Another Look at “Work Culture”

To be totally honest, I’m tired, and not just because of daylight savings time. Is it because grassroots, nonprofit work is hard work, even when you love the mission and work with a talented group of individuals? Yeah, and I knew that coming in. Could it be because I haven’t taken enough PTO? Sure, but not exactly. Is it because of capitalism? BIG yes, but that’s another story. Is it because I’m depressed? Sometimes. However, my biggest lesson so far as an RVC Community Impact Fellow has been that one of the biggest influences on mental health and wellbeing is work culture.

Every organization functions differently. Each person working for a nonprofit is unique. Personally, I appreciate and am amazed by all the different perspectives and positionalities that each of my coworkers brings to our organization. Each and every one of us does our job to uplift and serve our communities. Yet, that is not the same as intentionally building a caring, compassionate, and intentional work culture. Work culture is the spoken and unspoken social contract and organizational practices that dictate how a group works with each other to make things happen at their organization. It’s the subtle ways that we communicate (or miscommunicate), interact, and make decisions with each other, which can invigorate us or tire us out. 

I’m not new to the discussion of building a positive work culture. Especially after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; messaging about work-life balance, avoiding burnout, and self-care have been aggressively ingrained into my subconscious mind. Yet, internal discussions of organizational work culture should cut much deeper than the typical conversation on self-care. And don’t get me wrong; reducing screen time, taking mental health days, and not checking my work email after 5pm all help avoid burnout. However, it’s not going to address the deeper reasons for stress and fatigue in organizations. The creation of a healthy work culture at a nonprofit means having meaningful discussions that address the organization as a whole, its workflow, communication, decision making, and much more.

If you too work as a nonprofit employee and find yourself perplexed by creating a thriving work culture, or if you’re a director at a nonprofit organization that supervises several employees, here are three questions that have come up for me as I’ve thought about creating a more meaningful culture at work. 

  • How is your organization building care and compassion into its work culture?
  • When was the last time your organization has taken pause to reflect?
  • Who exactly is your organization serving and centering?

Disclaimer: By no means do I have the answers to creating a meaningful work culture, but I hope these questions act as a primer for conversations at your own organizations.

As you and your fellow staff members begin to reflect on these questions as an organization, I believe your work culture will slowly start to change. These changes won’t happen overnight but I know that slow progress is better than not moving at all. 

I look forward to sharing my learnings as I reflect more deeply on these questions and answer them myself, and I hope you’ll share your learnings with me in the comments below. 

By RJ Dumo, RVC Community Impact Fellow, Data & Impact Lead at Supporting Partnerships in Education and Beyond

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