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Muroff’s Memo: While We Care for the Community, We Also Care for Each Other

Jessica Muroff CEO at Conference
United Way of the Big Bend CEO Berneice Cox and United Way Emerald Coast CEO Kelly Jasen joined United Way Suncoast CEO Jessica Murofff for a plenary session of creating synergy to build a team at the recent United Way Florida annual statewide conference in Orlando.

As I shared how we create synergy during a plenary session at the recent United Way of Florida Statewide Leaders Conference, I found myself holding back tears. The emotion arose as I thought about our virtual all-team meetings we call “Huddles.”

I vividly remember in March of 2020 thinking through all the things we needed to do to keep our team connected at the onset of the pandemic. I was stressed and worried, I was still a very new CEO and there were so many evolving dynamics that I needed to keep my team connected and informed. That’s when I created our daily huddles.

It was also important to me that we hold space for that important personal connection, so with the huddles we started what is called, “Happy, Hard, and Hoping” where team members can share anything in these themes. We often talk about joys and hopes during the huddles, but I couldn’t help but reflect on how many times that team members spoke of losing family members, grappling with anxiety, and dealing with heartache and uncertainty during the last 2½ years. COVID-19 and all the ancillary issues surrounding it have taken a toll on our team and on our strategic community partners.

At least three sessions at the conference featured advice about coping with the “new normal” of our times, managing stress and anxiety, and guarding our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. As Advent Health community director of health Stephanie Arguello noted, it’s a challenge to care for yourself while caring for the community.

A recent survey of our strategic community partners (our nonprofit partners) conducted by our United Way Suncoast Data Team reveals the challenges. Of those who responded, 52 percent said they are very concerned about employees’ physical and/or mental health and 36 percent stated they’re somewhat concerned.

I’ve said many times, “Just because someone carries their load well, it doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.” We know that the community members we serve, the families we elevate, and the strategic partners we support – no matter how strong they may have appeared over the last year – all carried a heavy load as they continued to endure the pandemic.

I’m particularly struck by our Community Impact team members who returned to our neighborhood resource centers in the middle of the pandemic. They continued to serve on the frontline while observing COVID protocols. I also marvel at how our team has managed both responding to a crisis, while also keeping our core mission moving forward. This is no easy dynamic to manage, and I know it has taken a toll on our team.

For us and for our strategic community partners, promoting self-care is rooted in employee care. But it’s also good business as we grapple with staff turnover. The Great Resignation did not spare nonprofits.

In our survey, 60 percent of the respondents said they are very concerned about maintaining adequate staffing and 26 percent are somewhat concerned. Another 58 percent of respondents stated that staff turnover has been higher than usual. They also indicated that finding qualified staff has taken a significantly longer time than before the COVID-19 pandemic. I have not met one leader who has not experienced these dynamics.

Another speaker at the conference, GEICO regional sales manager Troy C. Smith, stated in his keynote that experts cite three reasons for The Great Resignation:

  • Burnout
  • Not Feeling Valued
  • Feeling Disconnected From The Work Family, Real Family And Friends.

We’re constantly talking to our team members about seeking help and “putting yourself at the top of your to-do list.” But it’s more than talk. Our Talent Team, led by Chief Talent Officer Jennifer McIntosh, has put specific policies in place to address these issues and these are comprehensive. They include:

  • Comprehensive benefits – Our team members enjoy a flexible work environment built on transparency and trust and most have hybrid schedules. Mental health and substance abuse support options are available through our health plans, our expanded EAP service, and virtual ongoing support is available for free to all permanent team members and members of their household through HealthiestYou.
  • Paid Time Off – In addition to several weeks of PTO, we recently implemented Inclusion Days for team members to take any day of meaning off that is not already a paid holiday.
  • Subscription to the Calm App for guided meditations to improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase overall wellbeing: https://www.calm.com/
  • ThrivePass – We deposit $25 each month into an account for members of our team that they can use for a wide range of wellness related items like fitness equipment and massages: https://www.thrivepass.com/
  • Suncoast Steps – the most amazing and friendly competition of fitness and health on our team. We have a team spreadsheet to track daily steps (there is even a conversion calculator for other activities!) We do a monthly drawing for all who put in steps during the month and the winner receives an additional $25 in their ThrivePass account.
  • UWS Book Club – Informal gathering of teammates that reads a mutually agreed upon book and meets to discuss reflections and learnings.
  • Freedom Fridays – Our team ends their workday at noon on Fridays in the Summer months of June and July when family and other demands are often higher.

We also work to understand the needs of our team. We conduct an engagement and DEI survey every year. If you’re not measuring your team’s perspective and outlook at least once a year, you’re missing the boat. It is imperative that our teams know their input matters and the actionable steps we are taking to address the areas of improvement. In January of 2020, our eNPS score (satisfaction score) was a -45.5 and that was improved to a +29 in one year. But, we always know that this is always a work in progress and we have to remain committed to the continuous feedback loop.

In the end, it’s about enhancing connectivity in these disconnected times, infusing employee appreciation and inspiring hope. We started our Huddles in 2020 after being forced to work remotely. I’m amazed at how they have organically grown to highlights like Team Member Tuesdays where a member of our team shares about themselves personally, and Recognition Wednesdays where everyone has an open platform to recognize their teammates. We’ve also invited wonderful speakers throughout the years to share with our team on timely topics from wellness, equity, and health.

Yet the most important moments come at the end of The Huddle when we allow team members to share their joys, their struggles, and their aspirations. Happy, Hard and Hoping … this is where the strength of our connection is born and nurtured. When our team has a safe place to be their authentic selves. That is where the magic of synergy can begin.

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