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8 Philly impact leaders on how to build a positive workplace culture

USFWC staff and board hanging out in Philly. January 29, 2018 Category: FeatureFeaturedLongPeople
How does your workplace support its employees?

U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC), where Mo Manklang works as communications director, has staffers all over the country: four in Philly, one in Seattle, one in Oakland.

It might be difficult to foster positive workplace culture at another organization that’s so small and dispersed — but fostering positive workplace culture is a big part of USFWC’s raison d’etre.

“I work at an organization that convenes and supports and advocates for workplace democracy, so we’re in this microcosm of what we hope the American Dream is — everyone has a voice, everyone has the ability to take pride in their work and have their needs met in whatever way that looks like,” Manklang said.

Ideologically, that means adhering to the International Co-operative Alliance’s seven cooperative principles, such as autonomy and independence and concern for community.

Logistically, that means a lot of virtual meetings where members are invited to show appreciation for each other’s work, and that taking vacation is encouraged.

“We’re all real, human people. Some of us have kids, some of us get sick, and some of us need to be in Mexico for three weeks,” Manklang said. There’s “a lot of flexibility around how, when, where we work.”

Because “culture” looks different everywhere you go, we asked eight social impact leaders what a positive workplace culture looks like and how they build it at their nonprofits or companies. Here’s what they said, from unlimited PTO policies to “win” boards. Responses have been lightly edited.

USFWC staff and board. (Photo courtesy of Mo Manklang)


From our Partners

Seth Klukoff, senior director of communications, Equal Measure

Creating a culture where everyone on our team has opportunities for continuous learning — with ample time to share ideas with each other — is paramount for us. To facilitate that exchange, we launched a Culture, Climate & Excellence (CCE) workgroup, which has designed a professional development curriculum focusing on methodological and content topics relevant to our work, coordinates our organizational commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and manages a biennial staff climate survey. It is important to note that we infuse an equity lens into all aspects of our curriculum, and this emphasis is a fundamental element of our culture.

Trish Downey, external communications manager, People’s Emergency Center (PEC)

PEC staff volunteers at the 2018 Point-in-Time count. (Courtesy photo)

A strengths-based, trauma informed perspective forms the foundation of our relationships with our consumers, constituents and each other.

We value diversity of thought and culture. We do our best to maintain honest and transparent communication and to create opportunities that enable all staff to participate in the decision making process. We have a generous paid time off program, and everyone is encouraged to use it in an effort to support self-care. Leadership development is supported by connecting staff with professional groups and accreditations like Nonprofit Executive Leadership Institute.

That said, PEC’s primary functions are direct service. There is not a lot of room in our budget for the other kinds of perks one finds in the business or corporate world, so to encourage the organic growth of a positive workplace culture, we have to get creative. That’s how the Fun, Appreciation and Motivation (FAM) committee developed.

FAM is a group of staff who organize events and programs to support staff morale. They elevate staff recognition through Employee of the Month and conduct ice breaker activities at our staff meetings. FAM brings us themed events that bring staff together for an activity — last year there was a hot dog buffet lunch, carnival day and a cookie decorating party. This month we have been advertising an Eagles Swag Contest.   Some of these events show off the cooking and decorating talents of our staff, too.

In this way, our staff work together to have a positive impact on, well, our staff! We come together to celebrate our wins — large and small — and share our losses. We get to know each other through long hours and over the years of service here; we are bound together by dedication to mission and our community. PEC has an amazing team of 100 people. Above all, it’s the people that make our workplace culture so positive.

PEC board members, supporters and staff celebrating the agency’s 45 years of service in September 2017. (Courtesy photo)

Marikate Taylor, communications manager, Benefits Data Trust

A strong and positive culture begins with engaged staff. Benefits Data Trust believes workplace culture should be just as diverse as the individuals who comprise it. Based on continuous feedback, we take care to create opportunities to engage our team members in activities that resonate with their unique qualities, such as BYO paint nights, monthly yoga classes, and clubs for interests like books and fiber arts. We also find ways to keep staff connected through the use of creative Slack channels, and do monthly “shout-outs” in our all-staff meeting.

Cathryn Sanderson, executive director, Back on My Feet (BoMF) Philadelphia

The BoMF team preparing for the Stroehmann Back on My Feet 5-Mile race. (Courtesy photo)

For us, it starts with core values of BoMF — integrity, collaboration, innovation, respect, and accountability. We work to infuse these into every aspect of our culture, whether we work in or out of the office.

We have an unlimited PTO policy, fitness stipends, and work hard to find team building and professional development opportunities. Staff work from home when it’s fitting for them and they create their own schedules — this can mean they have evening meetings, 5:30 a.m. runs with the teams or weekend races. We don’t count hours, we just hold ourselves accountable for creating a schedule that values personal time as much as professional. Oftentimes, staff will leave in the middle of the day to do a fitness class or will encourage each other to leave the office to prioritize fitness, if that is that individual’s outlet.

The team values mental health just as much as physical. And overall, there is a strong sense of team and individual accountability.

We have a “win” board that we update on things we feel proud of that we have accomplished and we have an “ideas” board to that we can brain dump our hopes and dreams in a visible place. We throw our favorite race bibs, pictures, letters, etc. all over the walls and will be putting up a mural of words from our community soon.

One thing that is unique about our office is that members we serve often come in and staff stop what they’re doing to simply welcome that member with a hug, catch up, etc. — even in the midst of a busy work day. It’s a nice reminder to continue to focus on why we come to work each day and a good way to stay connected with our community.

Kate Hagedorn, director of civic affairs, Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia

The Chamber is a very mission-focused organization as we strive to serve our members and the Greater Philadelphia region as the indispensable resource for good business. That spirit then drives our organizational culture to be respectful, collaborative, inclusive and high performing. We celebrate each other’s successes during “Bright Spots” at every month’s general staff meeting, promote mentorship among colleagues as well as encourage professional development and volunteerism in and out of the office.

One of the best parts of Chamber culture is our United Way Week — five days of fun activities that raise money for a worthy cause. Whether it is through lunchtime quizzo, a lip syncing contest or sending roses to colleagues, that week stands out as an extra special time to foster collegiality in the office. My Chamber colleagues truly feel like family because we respect each other, laugh often and are all invested in both individuals’ and the organization’s success.

The Chamber’s 2016 Wear Bright Colors Day. (Courtesy photo)

Melissa Hamilton and Rashanda Freeman, community engagement co-directors, CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia

CultureWorks gets well-being — and they understand that folks perform better when they feel mentally and physically rested, inspired, and healthy. With that in mind, they have a ‘two weeks to infinity’ unlimited PTO policy, which means that team members are expected to take at least two weeks of PTO per year. When I was first hired, this policy blew my mind. I remember feeling simultaneously ecstatic and confused by it. Nearly two years in now, I get it. Yes, there are boundaries around it, but the freedom to care for yourself in the midst of busy work schedules is liberating.

— Hamilton

I am beyond fortunate to work at CultureWorks where well-being and the whole person is always the highest priority. Our leadership has placed a clear emphasis on how we flourish as individuals. I feel valued as a team player because of the systems put in place whether that be: work-from-home day, unlimited PTO, or the well-being allowance. I truly believe CultureWorks is a disruptor in the way leadership looks at work productivity and human flourishing. I know that I am in a safe space, where it’s okay to take the time I need, because ultimately it makes me a better employee and colleague.

— Freeman

Martina Mansell, corporate giving coordinator, Revzilla

We have the usual perks you’d expect from a tech company (weekly catered lunches, an eight-foot prize wheel, a half pipe in the parking lot, etc.), but what really sets the stage for our culture is our adherence to our nine core values that speak to the importance of transparency, integrity, curiosity and quirkiness.

Transparency is a top-down mandate, as evidenced by our quarterly all hands meetings where the C-Suite addresses how the company is performing to its goals, share wins and fails from each department, and answer employee questions on the spot — no topics are off limits.

Other perks:

  • “Engagement Forums” with employees to ensure that we fully understand what keeps our people happy and excited, to identify any frustrations in their current roles, and to discuss possible actions the company can take to enhance their experience and keep them engaged
  • Leadership development training to our current managers and future leaders to ensure they are thoroughly equipped with the foundations necessary to promote growth and be effective leaders at RevZilla
  • An internal hiring pipeline that includes a job shadowing program and an employee referral program
  • A robust wellness program, including mindfulness and meditation classes, quarterly onsite counseling sessions, quarterly visits from a 401(k) advisor, weekly onsite yoga classes, periodic onsite massages to help manage stress during busy times of the year, paid parental leave and tuition reimbursement

Plus, our employee volunteer program just got a boost last fall when we rolled out our “Volunteer Time Off” policy, providing 16 hours of paid time off for all Zillans to spend volunteering in their communities.

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