How to Create a Strong Internal Culture When You Don't Have Lots of Money to Spend

Some of the work we do here at The Spark Mill is to help organizations create workplaces that are simultaneously high functioning and fun! We frequently work with clients that may not have the budgets to offer fancy offices, expensive benefits, or the highest salaries to their employees. Luckily, there are many workplace perks that contribute to a healthy, happy, and productive work environment that don’t necessarily cost a thing.

We’ve put together a few ideas on how you can cultivate a fantastic work culture.

1.     Paid Time Off. Lots of time. Allowing your staff to take a break from work; to play, take care of themselves and their families, volunteer in the community, and to take a much-needed mental health day is essential. Create a workplace expectation that employees WILL take time off, and WILL be unplugged while they are off.  That is a much healthier environment than the office where employees wear unused sick and vacation days as a badge of honor.  Well rested employees come back with a fresh outlook on their work and are able to avoid burn out.

2.     Flexibility to do life. Sure, there are some jobs where flexibility might be hard to offer, but for the most part there’s at least a little wiggle room for employees to work from home sometimes, pick their kid up from school twice a week, or go to that great yoga class in the afternoon. Perhaps you could even have an organization-wide policy that let’s everyone have Friday’s off in the summer? If you have high performing staff you really don’t need to micro manage their schedules.

3.     Create a fun and functional work space. It doesn’t hurt if it’s pretty to look at, too. Encourage staff members to bring in pictures and art work that brightens the office and makes it feel more personal and less neutral. Haul that shelf you aren’t using out of your basement and give it a new coat of paint to store office supplies.  Keep those blinds open to let in all of the natural light, this will also help your office plants grow...you do have office plants, right?!  Set up a table and chairs outside for lunch and inter-office meetings. Encourage walking meetings. Bring in a yoga mat for mid-day stretch breaks. This one sounds crazy, and for every boss that is out there right this second listing off reasons this wouldn't work in their office, there are 10 of their employees cheering...let staff wear clothes for their day – i.e.: important meeting? Dress up. Data entry and email replying? Wear jeans.  Work together with your staff and your policies and procedures to figure out a model that will work for you. 

4.     Invest in one another...you likely see each other more than you see your families.  You don’t need everyone to be best friends at work and this doesn't mean additional social obligations outside of work hours. (Many people truly prefer to keep their work and personal lives separate.) But you do spend an awful lot of time together...getting along will make life better for your office culture and your mission. So, make an effort to get to know one another—celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries, start your staff meetings with personal check-in’s, and make an effort to say hello and check in on Monday mornings (even when your to-do list is a mile long). Maybe host monthly potluck lunches or even have an ultra-competitive March Madness bracket competition (especially if you know your staff is already secretly streaming the games).

5.     Show gratitude and appreciation for hard work and dedication. People like being recognized for their work—it doesn’t have to be glitzy and glamorous, it just needs to be heartfelt and genuine. Showcase an employee of the month or quarter, host a competition for the most amount of follow through on an important project or campaign, shoot out an organization-wide personal thank you email, end staff meetings with time for staff appreciations. Don’t forget the simple act of adding gratitude to your daily interactions with employees. Good organizations take extra special care to thank volunteers, donors, clients, and board members but often fail to take the same consideration for their most valuable asset—their staff!

Most people who work with/for nonprofits, faith communities, start-ups and small businesses, or as civil servants certainly aren’t in it for the mega bucks.  That doesn't mean they don't deserve a positive work environment, an encouraging word from their supervisor, or a day off "just because" sometimes.  It may take a little extra time and effort, but the outcome will be well worth it.   Because, seriously, who doesn't want to work in a place with a thriving culture? 

If you are already doing a bunch of these suggestions, that's awesome!  If you have been thinking about improving your work culture, office environment, or have some general organizational development "stuff" going on and aren't sure about first steps or next steps, we'd be happy to chat by phone or over lunch.