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Staff appreciation initiatives to show how roles big and small support the operational health of your organization.

As a leader, having a great understanding of your organizations’ overall health and function is a top priority. But for your lower-level team members — and those who ensure your facilities stay in tip-top shape daily — the bigger picture might not come as easy. 

This is why a culture of appreciation — from entry level staff to senior staff, c-suite executives and board members — is key to operational health within an organization. Here, the Greater Valley YMCA, Easton/Phillipsburg Branch and the Barshop Jewish Community Center share the initiatives utilized to create this culture at each of these organizations. 

The Positivity Series 

Sarah Wassel, the senior program director at the Greater Valley YMCA, Easton/Phillipsburg Branch, shared a number of appreciation initiatives the Y incorporates regularly. One included a new initiative called the Positivity Series. 

“The impact of COVID-19 on our society has been difficult for everyone,” said Wassel. “The Positivity Series was our answer to show staff how much we appreciate them and are here to support them. Our goal is to thank staff at various times throughout the year so they know they are appreciated year-round. A one-time ‘thank you’ may fall short of expressing sincere gratitude.” 

Throughout the series, a gift and note is handed to every staff member in the association. Examples include a tube of lip balm with the note, “You’re the BALM… Have a CHAPPY day!” Another gift was a lanyard with the note, “Thanks for Being KEY to our success!” Another was a scratch off lottery ticket that said, “We hit the JACKPOT working with you.” 

Learn More: What if We’re Getting Employee Appreciation Wrong?

“The staff genuinely appreciated the Positivity Series,” said Wassel. “The gifts were delivered to staff by their supervisor, so the fact the supervisor said thank you to each staff person every two weeks for a three-month period made a real difference in employee morale.” 

To get the Positivity Series into action, Wassel shared they picked gifts that were heartfelt and meaningful, developed the initiative, and then presented it to the Greater Valley YMCA president and CEO for approval. 

Additionally, developing a Staff Satisfaction Team also supports the Y’s mission of creating a culture of appreciation. The team hosts events such as cornhole and tournaments with trophies for winners, and T-shirt design contests with themes like “Better Together” and “Together We Are Stronger.” The winner’s design gets printed on a T-shirt every staff member receives.

Recognition and Accessibility 

For the past 24 years at the Barshop JCC, staff appreciation is a year-round, everyday effort. With an average staff tenure of 17 years, Saul Levenshus, the president and CEO, shared his team uses a variety of approaches to acknowledge staff and their efforts through monthly meetings, an open-door culture and direct communication.

“Recognition is the most important aspect of making staff feel appreciated,” said Levenshus. “Taking the time to know everyone’s name and even offering a simple hello from leadership team members makes a difference.” 

Additionally, Levenshus said a key to his organization’s culture is making leadership staff accessible. “We have an open-door practice where staff are encouraged to share their feedback and seek advice from their supervisors all the way up to the CEO,” he said. “I make a point to connect and visit with staff regardless of their role and function and have mentored many staff throughout my 40-plus year career.” 

Like the Greater Valley Y’s Positivity Series, the Barshop JCC also utilizes staff appreciation initiatives. These include: 

  • Star Cards: When a staff member is recognized by a member or another teammate for going above and beyond, a Star Card is filled out and provided to that employee. The Star Card is typically initiated by the CEO and/or the staff member’s direct supervisor. 
  • Bonus Pool: Except for the two years that were dismally affected by COVID-19, staff receive a bonus at the end of each fiscal year with a personal note from the CEO recognizing and thanking each staff member for their impact on the success of that year.
  • Increments: Staff who have been with the JCC for at least a year will receive an increment in salary at the beginning of each fiscal year, not only based on cost of living but on their performance that year.

And lastly, at the end of each calendar year during the holiday season, staff receive a small gift with a “thank you” for their work along with a wish for a healthy and happy new year ahead. “If staff truly feel appreciated, they are far more likely to be engaged in their work and to go above and beyond,” said Levenshus. “And the positivity in which they approach their work and their work associates is ‘positively’ contagious in all aspects.” 

Overall, when assessing the operational health of any organization, Wassel said staff appreciation is a large part. “It’s like a vitamin — you take it to keep healthy,” she said. 


Speaking of Operational Health, How are Your Facilities? 

While having the right staff onboard is vital to upkeep the health of your facilities, it’s always good to check-in with vendor partners to make sure you’re doing all that you can to extend the life of your investments. 

When was the last time you considered just how often your floors are used? Cleaning and maintaining flooring is no luxurious task, but one that should be highly monitored and respected. The best start to healthy flooring is choosing the correct type for the need it’s fulfilling. Learn more in Stepping Up Your Flooring. 

In addition to flooring, an area that can be easily overlooked when it comes to maintenance is locker rooms. While they don’t have to look like spas, they do need to have the same safety standards, if not better. From children to seniors, a variety of members use locker room facilities at community centers, especially during warmer months when pool usage is high. Ensure you are meeting all safety standards by consulting with trusted vendors and checking in with staff daily.

Brittany Howard

Brittany is the editor of Community Rec Magazine. Reach her at brittany@peakemedia.com.

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