Managers Are Putting Self-Care on the Calendar

Create Wellness Communities and Schedule Staff Celebrations to Boost Morale and Well-Being

By Samantha Wulfsohn, Dorothy G. Jordan

MDRC’s technical assistance teams have worked with many program managers who are integrating self-care into their management strategies to address work-related stress—the physical, mental, and emotional responses individuals may have to challenges or difficult situations. Stress management is top of mind these days, as human services organizations continue to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting client and staff needs.

An earlier InPractice post offered a tool that managers and staff members can use to assess and then address the stress of their jobs. This post offers two additional group activities that managers can use to promote staff cohesion and morale: Wellness communities and staff celebrations.

The underlying reasons for the pressures that staff members face in their daily work are often complex, and no one strategy can effectively address them all. Self-care strategies also can’t take the place of identifying elements of an organization’s structure or culture that may be negatively affecting staff welfare. Managers should be on the lookout for any pressures and strains affecting their team and respond quickly. To provide additional support, keep an open-door policy so people can stop by to discuss challenges they may be facing, and offer regular supervision with time built in for wellness check-ins.

Create a Wellness Community

Several early childhood programs MDRC has worked with are creating wellness communities, where program directors carve out dedicated time and space for staff members to come together to identify work-related stress, share how they are managing it, and get support from one another.

Here are some pro tips to help you set up a wellness community for your program.

Make Time

  • Clear time on your organization’s calendar for a regular meeting—at least 30 minutes per session.
  • Make it a recurring meeting on the calendar.
  • Make time for it during a regular staff meeting or choose a time in the weekly schedule when staff members are less likely to be busy, such as around lunch hour.

Set Aside Space

  • Hold meetings in a space where the staff feels comfortable and relaxed, such as in a community area.
  • Limit distractions. Consider asking everyone to turn their phones to “do not disturb.”
  • Create a soothing ambience with quiet background music or lowered lighting.

Create Content

  • Offer a topic or theme to help guide the conversation. Some examples include:
    • Healthy eating (swap recipes or local restaurant ideas)
    • Favorite hobbies (ask if anyone would like to bring in a craft or hobby to demonstrate or share)
    • Healthy and effective sleep habits
  • Get input from the staff on how they would like to use the time.
  • Encourage staff members to take the lead in facilitating conversations.
  • Practice at least one stress-reducing exercise during the meeting.
  • Give attendees a chance to share something from their week.
  • Consider inviting a guest speaker.
  • Give out free raffle tickets for small gifts such as stress balls or gift cards, to reward staff members for participating.
  • Offer refreshments.
  • If the meeting is taking place virtually, invite everyone to bring their own snacks, perhaps related to a theme.
  • If the meeting is in person, offer healthy finger foods along with treats like chips and cookies.
  • Coordinate before the first meeting to choose who will distribute snacks at each meeting.

Host Staff Celebrations

MDRC has worked with several fatherhood and coaching programs located in public housing communities where the directors are promoting self-care with staff celebrations. One way to do this is to establish a staff appreciation month, to publicly acknowledge staff successes and accomplishments and to engage in small acts that tell staff members they are valued. Here are some ideas:

Staff Appreciation Month Sample Calendar

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday

Week 1

Hold a kickoff staff luncheon.

Share a resource packet with tips and ideas for self-care.

Schedule a lunchtime mindful minute.


Hand out small gift bags with a few self-care items such as candles or bath salts.

Week 2

Schedule 15-minute coffee breaks for small groups.


Lunchtime mindful minute

Share an inspirational quote with the staff.

Make stress balls together.

Week 3

Put together an herbal tea bar.

Schedule a group stretch time.


Lunchtime mindful minute


Hand out notebooks for “gratitude journals.”

Week 4

Start the morning off with a fun icebreaker.


Lunchtime mindful minute

Create a “gratitude email chain,” in which staff members share something positive about a colleague being recognized.

Hold an end of the month celebration luncheon.

Integrating self-care into a program doesn’t have to be complicated. Just creating opportunities for self-care during the workday can be helpful. For example, make sure that staff members have time to recharge during the day. Encourage them to take time for lunch or to leave their desks for a short coffee break. Set a time for an occasional water cooler chat or a get up and stretch moment. Schedule open door office hours or informal group chats between supervisors and supervisees.

Do you want to prioritize self-care in your organization this year? This quick questionnaire can help you clarify your goals and strategies:

Commit to Building Self-Care into Your Program


To promote wellness in my program, I commit to:


I will try it out by:


I am motivated to do this because:


I will get support and encouragement from:



About InPractice

The InPractice blog series highlights lessons from MDRC’s work with programs, featuring posts on recruiting participants and keeping them engaged, supporting provider teams, using data for program improvement, and providing services remotely.

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