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Daily Staff Ritual Keeps Spirits High

Rituals are an important part of organizational culture. At Playworks, the daily ritual of staff “recess” is an easy yet meaningful way for employees to collectively exemplify the values of the organization.

As a national nonprofit organization that supports learning by providing safe, healthy and inclusive play and physical activity to schools at recess and throughout the entire school day, a core value of Playworks is “playfulness.” Around eight years ago, the staff in the headquarters office in Oakland, CA decided to incorporate play into their daily routine by taking a whiffle ball break in the afternoon. This soon led to the adoption of holding a daily staff recess every week – just 15 minutes at 3pm – an innovation that keeps staff morale high and helps employees feel connected to the organization’s mission.

According to Lisa Frydenlund, Human Resources Director, this daily ritual is a manifestation of the Playworks mission. “Our mission is all about promoting play in different cities and schools. By having our staff recess every day, we get to walk our talk,” says Lisa, “We get to experience first hand the importance of taking a break and playing.”

This ritual also supports a healthy work/life balance for the organization’s employees. “Our staff works really hard. We find that recess makes people more productive. Our people are so committed to what we do, but they also need an outlet to just have fun with their co-workers.“ says Lisa.

On the recruiting front, recess is seen as a great benefit to working at Playworks. “We tell prospective hires about recess and they react really positively, “ says Lisa, “Sharing this information is an easy way to show candidates what we’re all about. As we have a somewhat irreverent environment, this also helps us to screen candidates and understand their cultural fit.”

Recess isn’t the only ritual at Playworks. The organization incorporates small yet significant rituals such as giving “high fives” at the end of meetings and holding senior management team meetings called “The Huddle.”

For organizations looking to institutionalize a staff ritual that embodies their culture, Lisa had the following advice: “Look at the core of what you do. Then, ask yourself how that can be played out in a day-to-day realistic way for staff. As people in a nonprofit environment come to work because they have a passion for what they do, find simple ways for employees to demonstrate their passion in the workplace. It’s about knowing who you serve, how you serve them, and then tying that into the work week.”