The Free Benefit That Makes People Stay

During the height of the pandemic, feeling unsettled in my OST Director position, I thought about what would change how I felt. After all, the job provided comfort during some of the most trying experiences in my personal life. The organization paid me more than others in OST leadership positions, offering me financial security. The job had a flexible schedule that allowed me time to teach part-time at a community college. Finally, I left the position, exhausted from the mental, emotional, and physical workload. Moving on was difficult, but I know it was the best thing I could have done. It wasn’t a higher salary that prompted me to take a different position at a new organization, and a raise wouldn’t have kept me with my former employer.

In OST, when advocating for job quality, the conversation typically leans toward professionalizing the field with pay that recognizes the value of the work. Let’s be clear, PAY MATTERS. However, high-quality jobs provide benefits that value people in other ways that pay can’t. For example, providing a healing-centered workplace is an offering many organizations miss. This workplace benefit is hard to quantify but contributes to employee well-being and job satisfaction which makes a difference in recruiting and retaining staff of color, addressing the toxicity within even the best-intentioned institutions, and more. 

Healing-centered workplaces:

  • go beyond pay into camaraderie and shared learning, grieving, and healing;
  • are about consistency and care;
  • support individuals and teams by providing opportunities to heal from any harm created at work rather than simply moving on;
  • provide the capacity for individuals to exist entirely, vulnerably, and without fear;
  • don’t expect perfection; value mistakes as opportunities for growth;
  • and indeed put people first.

Not having a foundation or having unmended cracks in the foundation negatively impact job quality and employee retention. Pay cannot build or mend relationships. It takes people and organizations to provide healing-centered spaces that include safety, transparency, and accountability.

Many OST professionals—women, BIPOC, or individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+–come from marginalized communities.  As someone who belongs to all of these categories, in addition to carrying trauma, I know how asking for more or speaking up can be a frightful, stressful experience. Without healing-centered spaces, it is common to see professionals leave organizations once the emotional debt has bankrupted their spirit.  What would have improved the quality of my former workspaces? Having colleagues and supervisors who listened without speaking over me, didn’t erase my experiences, or didn’t label my feelings too sensitive would have made a difference, making me feel more valued and increasing my desire to stay.

@imaniintouch recently tweeted, “When you heal, you go from wanting to be chosen to doing the choosing.” For me, healing is about being emotionally, spiritually, and mentally safe rather than waiting to be seen and chosen. While I am forever grateful for the things learned and received in my career journey so far, in my current position –true to the Camp Fire way–I choose to thrive rather than merely survive. I choose job quality.

Contributed by Susie Estrada, 2020 Next Gen Leader, Program Delivery Specialist with Camp Fire National