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The (Staff) Happiness Project

IMG_2418When it comes to employee wellness the Tucson JCC has decided to get happy.

That was the decision of a staff committee originally put together to find ways of encouraging better staff health and wellness. It took only a few meetings to realize they weren’t taking charge of employee wellness at all. They were taking on something much bigger—happiness.

Thus was born the Discover Staff Happiness Team and its first activity: Staff Walk and Talk. This first program ran from March through June.

“We set up a series of walks around the building with different people leading them,” says Tucson J’s President and CEO Todd Rockoff. “Each had a theme, and whoever was leader, would implement it. Alongside that, we asked people to measure their steps for a 12-week period and log onto software we bought for that purpose. Each week had a different winner, who got the most steps and they got points for that.”

IMG_2428Many staff were already counting steps with fitness trackers and more came on board. The formal walks, which all staff were encouraged to attend during the workday, got people to move. And the themes varied. One leader chose a film to discuss, another a favorite book. Rockoff offered one challenging his staff to ask him anything they wanted during the walk.

There were weekly winners and the grand prizes included prizes included such things as new ear buds, a personal training session in the J’s fitness center or a T-shirt. A grant later allowed them to up the ante on the prizes, which included an iPad.

Discover Staff Happiness didn’t end with Walk and Talk, which had about 100 participants in both the group walks and in the step-counters who went at it alone. As the effort ramped up, the J partnered with Tucson Medical Center, which had sponsored several JCC events in the past. To beat the summer heat, the next event was Water Wars, where the J faced off against the hospital, with each agency fronting teams of four. There were 40 participants in all for the beat-the-heat activity, which included a laser tag-style water gun fight, flip-cup and water balloon grenade toss, and a wet-sponge bucket brigade. Basically JCC staff got to take part in the same kind of fun they promote for participants at the J.

Abby Gettinger, one of the Tucson JCC’s lead early childhood education teachers —and a member of the winning Water Wars team thought the experience offered a great way related to colleagues, using teamwork, fun and laughter. “It really built a relationship between different departments at the J,” she says. “I got to know people that I didn’t know very well before and now say ‘hi’ to every day.”

The committee is set to cook up another round of happiness when it next meets. Clearly, as Rockoff points out, fitness is a little beside the point. Building staff happiness, or job satisfaction does not have to be about increased salaries, and the usual measurements of success, it can be as simple as learning to play well with your colleagues.

“The upshot is that it got staff who don’t know each other to get to know each other better,” Rockoff notes. “It broke down some hierarchical barriers. And when you play together, you see each other in a different way.”

Todd’s tips:

  • It only works when there’s community behind it. It can’t just be the CEO pushing it, but it also can’t survive without the top banana’s support.
  • Activities work best when leaders actively recruit.
  • The fitness and wellness department doesn’t drive the effort; it’s systemic involving all departments.
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