By Caitlin Summers Motta, LPC, Director of Mental Health Services, and Susan Goldman, MEd, Director of Community Educational Services

Caitlyn Summers Motta

Everything changed in March 2020. Our routines changed. Our families changed. Our relationships changed. Our work days changed. There was no more going into the office, working the 9 to 5 day, or interacting with our coworkers. We instantly became isolated in our homes and worked through virtual means. How can you stay connected when being apart?  For many of our employees at First Children Services, the virtual meetings weren’t filling the voids and complicated emotions we were experiencing.

It was a challenging balance to figure out. How were we going to keep our employees motivated to complete the job in front of them? After all, people need people to feel connected.  After a few vent sessions about the new monotony of the day, a virtual meeting of the minds took place, and we realized we needed to find a way to keep the morale up! We needed our team to feel just as connected as if they were in the office!

We decided to create experiences that would enhance our employees overall mental health and well-being which would be collectively called the “First Children Services Work Well, Be Well Initiative.” We found simple ways to break up the day and to keep everyone motivated. We thought it was just going to be temporary while working remotely, but we found the outcomes to be more than we could have ever imagined. This was something that was going to stick.

Susan Goldman

It started small, a yoga event, then “Trivia Happy Hour” with prizes, followed by a cooking lesson led by one of our clinical staff members.  It was something the staff wanted more of and on a regular basis. They asked for it, so we delivered and from there, it grew. We started a “28 Day Step Up Challenge” to encourage our staff to get moving while they were working from home. Each week, each participant who met the weekly steps goal was entered into a raffle for a pair of Bombas socks, and at the end of four weeks, all participants were entered into a raffle for a Hydroflask. Participants encouraged each other and congratulated the weekly step and raffle winners. We are now on our second challenge which came back by popular demand. This time, we added on an extra activity challenge for our employees who preferred other forms of exercise to walk. We also started hosting monthly book clubs. Our second month into it, we were able to contact the author and have her join the book club. Soon we will be hosting another cooking lesson and a virtual mid-day stretch and guided meditations in addition to future step challenges and book clubs.

We feel that creating culture and community within the workplace isn’t something we should only be doing when working remotely due to COVID-19; it is something that is needed all year round to make all staff feel a part of the organization no matter what capacity they work in. First Children Services employs hundreds of staff who work full time, part-time, and per diem in various roles and settings throughout New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania making it difficult to provide in-person company-wide team-building activities. These online activities provide a forum for all employees to get to know each other and the various roles our employees play in our organization. It also helps employees to learn more about the many programs our company has to offer.

The “First Children Services Work Well, Be Well Initiative” is an investment with benefits all around for all involved. It supports our employees and keeps them connected, but it also connects our programs. This has been an ongoing conversation within our company of how to continue to keep our mission of providing “life-changing outcomes to exceptional kids” at the front of what we do while keeping our staff connected and well. By allowing time for this employee initiative, we have found a creative, fun way for our employees to do just that. These initiatives are rewarding to our growing team and also to tour the business. In short, we made a mindful decision to invest in the people who are investing their time in our mission.