A number of years ago, I was interviewing for an Executive Director position with a smaller nonprofit. Staff were involved in the interview process and one of the long-time staff-people asked me, “So how do you feel about lunch?” As you might imagine, I was taken aback a bit. I didn’t really have a context for the question; in previous jobs I was either traveling or I ate lunch alone at my desk while working. Lunch? I responded, “I like lunch, lunch is good!” And whether that response had anything to do with it, I got the job.

What this person was really asking me was, “How is your work-life balance?” She asked to get a sense of who I was, and how I managed. It was a brilliant question because it gave staff the information they needed, and it made me think about my orientation to my work. As a driven, outcome-focused person, I had always pushed myself above and beyond at work, and there were times I paid the price: ulcer, chest pains, burnout. Not such good personal outcomes.
The culture at this nonprofit was that, as many days as possible, the staff got together and ate lunch. This did not stop when I became the ED; we talked, we laughed, sometimes we watched Jon Stewart, other times we listened to someone’s favorite new music. It usually lasted from 45 minutes to an hour, and everyone got back to work refreshed, ready for the afternoon.

Happy Workers Work Better
More and more, in the for-profit as well as the non-profit worlds, research shows that happy, healthy staff are better workers and more likely to achieve the organization’s goals. It just makes sense. Research in the for-profit sector by Oswald, Proto and Sgroi has shown that staff who are frustrated and unhappy are less productive and lack the desire to innovate. A recent article by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman in the Chronicle of Philanthropy provide a list of ways organizations can institutionalize processes and structures for staff well-being, including getting leadership buy-in and building it into your strategic plan.

Modeling Good Work Habits
As a manager, do you take your vacation days? Do you always arrive early and stay late? Do you take sick days when you are sick? Are there unspoken expectations about what it means for staff to meet the mission? Ask yourself these questions.
If you are engaging in these behaviors, ask yourself why. Of course there are times when one has to put in extra hours, or go to a meeting or come to work when one isn’t feeling totally up to par. But if this is a habit, there’s probably more than just a desire to get to the mission in your thinking and, subsequently, in your behaviors. No matter how you act at work, you are modeling behaviors to your staff. If you are modeling an unsustainable, driven, ‘mission at all costs’ behaviors, your staff might feel frustrated, diminished, and/or unheard when they need time off. Or if they just want to have lunch with their colleagues.

If you see this in yourself, work to modify your behaviors. Talk to other managers. Look for a coach. If you see it in your staff, tell them; just saying it will generate relief. Ask staff what might be helpful to them. Look on line to see what others have done, and bring suggestions. Then implement–there’s little that’s worse than asking for input and then ignoring it.