Building A Nurturing Work Environment In 2022

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As organisation leaders get to grips with another challenging year, it is important to create nurturing and supportive environments to achieve long-term success and resilience. 


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As organisation leaders get to grips with another challenging year, it is important to create nurturing and supportive environments to achieve long-term success and resilience. 

Inyathelo Operations Director Feryal Domingo and Finance Director Soraya Joonas draw on experiences within Inyathelo, established 20 years ago to help nonprofits become more sustainable, and the clinic advisory sessions the organisation offers to clients. 

Work cannot meet all of our needs, but because we spend most of our waking hours at work, we must have some needs met within a  caring environment if we are to have a sense of belonging and growth.

Organisational trauma can be triggered by a single event, and also from a long-term stressor such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Many nonprofit staff are themselves continuously exposed to trauma through the work they do, such as counselling survivors of domestic violence.

Often during clinics, the client will talk about their funding challenges and how this impacts on the delivery of the work that they do. They also reflect on the impact of the lack of funding on the sustainability of the organisation.

You can hear the pain because they are also concerned about the people, who have been employed for so long, and may possibly be without a job if the funding situation doesn't improve. They are concerned about how they will cope and  manage to limit dysfunction, which could ultimately lead to a downward spiral

A nurturing environment contributes to the financially sustainability of an organisation.. There is greater creativity, as staff view it as a great place to work. A nurturing environment helps build up loyal supporters and ambassadors, for example on social media. This can be tremendously beneficial for voice and visibility. People speak positively about the organisation, whether they are former staff, trustees, clients or consultants. It is also easier to manage challenges and transitions

Budgeting for a nurturing environment

The opportunity cost of not creating a nurturing environment includes losing valuable people, reputational risk, legal and compliance risk, internal entropy and low morale, leadership transition challenges, becoming less attractive for funding and support, the erosion of trust and credibility, and sustainability challenges. It can be hard to recover from such knocks. Instead, careful budgeting for a nurturing environment is time and money well spent.

An organisation in the early stages of the organisational life cycle would consider cost-free ways of nurturing staff, while the mature institution would allocate financial resources for renewal.

These budget items could include the following: Organisational development, governance, Covid-19 contingency, staff development, equity budgeting, staff costs including time away, supplies, capital, IT, software and maintenance, programmes and travel.

Establishing a nurturing environment

In order to establish and grow a nurturing environment, there are numerous contributory factors to consider.

  • Relevance: Organisations should keep abreast of the external environment to test that they remain relevant. The vision and mission statement created many years ago may need to be revised. There is also the need for clarity about roles and responsibilities – knowing who does what.
  • Inclusivity: It is critical to nurture an inclusive culture that is welcoming and caring, and has consideration of economic inequality. This ensures a cohesive team where everyone feels included. When organisations do not pay attention to anti-racism and gender-based violence policies, and a crisis emerges, there are huge costs: financial, when lawyers are involved, and  organisational cost, with eroded reputation, productivity and trust.
  • Self-actualisation: Staff need to have a sense of inclusion and  being part of a team.  Much depends on ensuring there are growth opportunities. This can include going beyond staff job descriptions so that people look forward to constantly learning and taking on new and exciting responsibilities.
  • Growth:  People thrive in a non-threatening environment, where there are opportunities for self-development. An example is opening up management meetings to staff so they can express their views. Another example is  adopting a  more constructive approach to performance reviews, such as coaching to support growth.
  • Esteem: Respect and acknowledge staff who have built up the organisation over time. This makes a big difference and contributes to building morale. It is also one of the ways to ensure that an organisation is seen as a great place to work. Management should also be up-to-date on salary benchmarks, so that staff are respected in terms of what they are paid.
  • Security: When an organisation enters crisis mode, it is often their policies that management leans on. These provide an enveloping sense of security. Invest early in putting guidelines in place, including policies on governance.
  • Trustees: Board members should be nurtured so that they continue to volunteer their time and expertise. They need to feel welcome and respected so that they continue to provide foresight and insight, and challenge management if needed.
  • Benefits: The basic physiological needs of an employee are met through wages and salaries. Offering staff more benefits, however, encourages greater motivation. For example, flexible working hours and company-provided lunches provide great job satisfaction as well as boosting productivity.

Results of a nurturing environment

Talent is attracted and staff retained in a nurturing environment. Employees stay when they are well paid, mentored, challenged, promoted, involved, appreciated, trusted, empowered and valued.

If you have put the building blocks in place, the organisation attracts support and interest. There  are co-created values and goals. The culture and values are lived and shared by all stakeholders, including staff and board members. It is a learning organisation, with great teamwork, and is resilient, weathering storms and crises. On occasions when staff do leave to take up fresh opportunities, they remain advocates of the organisation.

People need to have a sense of purpose. We recommend taking a fresh look at what your organisation does, and how you align this with your own sense of mission and purpose in your life and self-development.

Submitted by Judy Bryant 

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