The lunch table, burnout, and “team-building” — my time with an organizational culture done differently | Love146
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On my first day at work at Love146 a colleague casually mentioned, “Oh, by the way, we all tend to eat lunch together at the big table. You don’t have to or anything, but it’s just kind of a tradition.” The deep introvert in me took a deep breath, thought about it, and dove in. I’ve joined in more or less every day since. The talk at the table ranges from work-related, to movies, to intense philosophical debates, to the latest viral videos on YouTube. I never would have thought that I’d end up looking forward so much to what amounts to a social gathering.

For me, a big meal table is as powerful an embodiment of how Love146 functions as Rob’s hallway desk. Last week Forbes wrote about how our president and co-founder, Rob Morris, sits at a desk in a hallway in the middle of our office. As a leadership statement, his posture sets a tone of openness, collaboration, and helps break down the walls of hierarchy. Ask him why he does this and he’ll tell you with a kind of impish smile, “I don’t like walls.” This makes sense, especially for the leader of an anti-trafficking organization.

In many organizations, “values” are mostly outward-facing. But at Love146, values of listening, hope, perseverance, collaborating, innovating, and being thoughtful together are at work in our shared spaces and even our margins — they fill our lunch breaks and hallways. Whether it’s the couches around Rob’s desk, or the big lunch table, or our weekly staff meetings that electronically bring in colleagues from our remote offices, Love146 is a culture where we process together, and no one has to be alone with the weight of real details of children’s trauma. Spontaneous couch time and lunch table time bring us together in ways that no meeting, scheduled social hours, or forced team-building activities can.

Love146 is a workplace where we’re not just given time off, we’re encouraged to take it. Where using a sick day for mental health is normalized. Where those who work on the frontlines with children have extra paid time off built into their jobs. Where we have a generous sabbatical policy that anticipates the risks of burnout. Burnout — and what the social sciences call “secondary trauma” — is a big factor in this work, and the idea is we’ll be more effective and have more impact on the children we journey with by staying fresh and engaged ourselves.

Maybe it’s just bad luck, but in my 40-year career, I’ve worked in a lot of places, both corporate and nonprofit, and I had never experienced working in such an open, supportive, thoughtful, and ultimately kind environment. But honestly, I don’t think it’s luck. At Love146, kindness is our beating heart. That’s not to say we don’t have times of tension or conflict — we are human, after all. But caring about each other is the special sauce that helps us be there for children through their darkest hours, when they find hope, and when they once again are in need. Trust me. This place is different. And you should know: When you give to Love146 you’re investing in a unique organization — one that has “love” in its name and at its core.


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