Using Science and Mindfulness to Improve the Well-Being of Nonprofit Employees
There’s an important question in the nonprofit world: Who takes care of the caregivers? Or maybe a more valuable thought: How can nonprofits ensure their employees’ well-being?
Within social services organizations, their clients may be facing significant challenges experiencing addiction, homelessness, physical and mental disabilities, and other traumas. Through nonprofits like Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan, people can find courage, independence and healing to lead a life that is truly their own. This type of intensive treatment approach can put a strain on staff and caregivers. Many studies cite burnout being common among therapists, psychologists and caregivers in general. Most research shows between 40% to 60% of these individuals reporting burnout and negative impacts from their stressful jobs.
LSS serves nearly 30,000 people, empowering them to live their best lives by offering programs to guide them down the right path. Many of the 750+ employees take on an enormous amount of responsibility, often managing stressful situations and giving individuals in need the tools to succeed.
From the beginning, Héctor Colón, LSS President and CEO, has directed the organization toward becoming a workplace of choice. That goal was made clearer thanks to a fateful meeting with Susan Lubar, founder and president of Growing Minds. The two leaders were introduced to each other and began to explore if Growing Minds could have a role as an LSS partner. While Lubar was excited at the opportunity to support LSS and its causes, Colón was intrigued with Growing Minds’ approach to mindfulness, which is rooted in research and neuroscience.
For the two Wisconsin-based organizations, it felt like a match made in heaven.
Growing Minds’ overarching mission for companies is to create self-generated, sustainable transformation in employees’ well-being and relationships. Ultimately, the organization looks to improve the lives of employees by giving them basic skills to understand mindfulness and emotion management at work and beyond.
Too often today, employees struggle with emotional stability. They are more likely to experience increased negativity, burnout, relationship problems and exhaustion. Through science-based, neurobiological research and execution, Growing Minds focuses on creating more positivity in the workers’ lives.
“We translate research and utilize tools to help cultivate a deep sense of well-being,” Lubar said. “We all have these learning skills and tools we process, but they are in short supply when we are stressed. We get overtaxed.”
Thus, Growing Minds has developed practices to use and implement in everyday life so that our brains and nervous system can reset, giving ourselves a chance to put our best foot forward — especially at work. One of the most significant concepts is to pause and listen. According to Jenifer Hilander, mindfulness awareness instructor for Growing Minds, it’s a challenge for each person to take care of himself or herself.
“We all know we need to take care of ourselves, but making the time to do this in a meaningful way that we can readily access with some consistency is a tall order,” said Hilander. “At Growing Minds, we introduce ways to look at each moment as being nourishing or depleting. In the work environment, it’s especially difficult to feel like you can take the time to center yourself because it is often ‘go, go, go.’ It needs to be integrated into the culture.”
“This is where LSS is so special and unique,” said Susan Dowd, human capital director for LSS. “Through Growing Minds, we have prioritized and invested in our employees’ well-being. We encourage true self care and stress that, as an organization, our value begins with our colleagues.”
LSS leaders know their workers can’t effectively help others unless they are in a good place mentally and emotionally. The focus on mindfulness needs to be embraced by leadership for true success to filter throughout the organization.
“There is a culture of compassion at LSS,” Lubar said. “You see an outpouring of compassion with their clients. We try to help the staff refuel to grow a deep well to replenish from when needed.”
The relationship with Growing Minds allowed LSS to create the space needed to integrate customized training into the organization. The LSS decision-makers were so impressed with Growing Minds’ full-day session with a number of its leaders, LSS committed to instilling the practices throughout its workforce. And though COVID-19 forced Growing Minds to provide only virtual sessions with LSS, it gave the organizations a chance to see if the taped versions provided the same insights and benefits. It did.
Even with the remote format, Growing Minds stuck to its science-based, custom design by utilizing a number of proven mindful awareness practices called “cool tools.” These include, but are not limited to:
- Seven shakes
- Soles of your feet exercise
- “I am calm… 2,3,4” breathing
- Tighten and release
- Five finger gratitude
Readers can learn more about practices like these through a Facebook series called “LSS Mindfulness Moments with Growing Minds” set to kick off this month and run through the end of the year. Go to @LSSWis or @GrowingMinds to follow.
To begin cultivating a culture of incremental positivity, compassion and resilience, organizations often begin by offering the Growing Minds online or in-person training with self-selected participants who are looking for ways to improve their well-being. The website offers more information on mindfulness in the workplace, as well as free practices that can be used for personal use or in professional settings. Creating a sustainable culture of well-being can be initiated by just a few intentional staff members, and the ripple can be felt throughout the whole organization.
“When you learn something new, it’s difficult to fight through the information,” Lubar said. “We walk through the steps with leaders and others to give them the encouragement to use these practices in their workplace.”
Hilander added, “One of the tenets of mindfulness is that we’re better together. Staff can learn and practice, then connect with colleagues for more productive conversations. It’s all about relationships.”
For LSS, the relationship with Growing Minds continues to benefit the organization and show the value of taking time to manage personal needs in preparation for the long haul instead of just fighting through it every day. Especially in recent times, with even more adversity, uncertainty and worry, the emphasis on taking care of your employees becomes even more important.
“Mindfulness cares for the caregiver,” Lubar noted. “LSS should have its own award for the way they value their employees’ well-being. They truly invest in their people.”
Everyone involved acknowledges that the process to mindfulness and stability isn’t difficult, everyone just needs direction, guidance and reminders to take it seriously in real time.
“Employee self-care leads to greater outcomes, higher engagement and organization success,” added Dowd. “When you know you’re cared about, it makes a difference.”
Article written and edited by Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan