Caroline McDowell, Marketing & Communications Manager, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits
A few years ago, the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits felt the rumblings of workplace concerns among staff. On par with what nonprofits across the sector were experiencing, the Center's staff was stretched thin and stressed out. Some shifts in internal communications had been happening to help address it – like exploring the MOCHA model to be transparent and cross-departmental about project responsibilities and ownership, and reading and discussing The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace as a staff so they could work better together. However, there was no easy mechanism in place where staff could candidly share concerns and believe they’d be heard.
“We were feeling more overwhelmed – too many tasks and not enough hands, much like others in our sector – and experiencing staff morale concerns. We wanted to address them,” says Jeanne Tedrow, president and CEO of the Center.
At the suggestion of a staff member, the Center’s staff-led Internal Communications Committee designed and implemented a morale survey as a way to gauge staff workloads, stress levels, and overall morale. The morale survey began as an optional, bi-weekly survey for all the staff to take.
From the start, staff has been receptive. About half of the staff complete the survey on a regular basis. The Center’s chief finance and operations officer and chief executive officer review the weekly feedback and take the task seriously. They scan for who’s reported a stressful week or had a heavy workload, and any insights into why. If there’s a trend among staff, leaders call a ‘family meeting.’ Or if a certain employee notes a heavy workload or high stress several weeks in a row, leaders reach out with an email or a phone call to see if the employee wants to talk and discuss how the staff team can help.
Staff leaders have to be willing to hear negative comments and not respond negatively. They recognize that they cannot fix everything but can acknowledge concerns and encourage positive problem solving.
“Our employees often wear many hats and have very full plates. This weekly survey allows leadership to better understand what staff are taking on at that moment in time and how it’s impacting their mental health,” says Tracy Careyette, chief financial and operations officer at the Center.
When the COVID pandemic forced the Center’s staff to work remotely, it felt important to check in more often as staff were struggling to manage work-life balances, so the morale survey became weekly. It was still optional, but it now asked staff to include their names because leaders ‘can’t fix what we don’t know.’
“I think staff appreciates that we attend to the feedback, and they have become more comfortable sharing,” says Tedrow. “We’ve been able to gauge how folks are handling stressors beyond the workplace and how these are brought into the work situation. We want to assure staff that their well-being and self-care are a priority for us, that we’re paying attention, and that we’ll address it as best we can.”
Not only does the survey help the Center recognize where it can improve workplace culture, but it has birthed ideas like ‘Me Mondays’ when staff can unplug from email, meetings, and chats and focus on work projects uninterrupted, or take some extra time that day for mental wellness. It also points out when there needs to be a pause because staff are feeling burnout – in those instances so far, the Center has provided an extra day off, fun outing, or staff lunch.
The morale survey has evolved over the last two years to include space for staff to share what they’re grateful for each week and appreciation for a teammate(s). Careyette explains, “Adding these questions has helped us lift up the positive – no matter how small – and be intentional about showing appreciation for our coworkers. It gives us a way to pause and remember what an awesome team we have and how much we value what we all do.”
The morale survey is now followed by a ‘Motivational Monday’ message that shares the staff’s gratitudes and appreciations.
There will always be a need to address communications and workplace culture, so the Center will continue the morale surveys as long as it’s relevant and staff are open to participate. It’s a good way to keep connected to staff and staff connected with leadership.
“We have such a talented, dedicated, and experienced team. This gives us a place to reinforce that,” says Tedrow. “There’s no reason for staff to feel they have to ‘tough it out’ for work’s sake; rather, how can we help each other knowing we all will have a difficult turn. The culture embedded through this process will help our team care for itself and each other now and as our organization grows.”