Workforce

3 ways to boost staff morale as the pandemic continues

Constant pivoting can breed constant stress, as FSDs around the country have learned firsthand.
Photograph courtesy of Lee’s Summit R-7 School District

With myriad changes thrown their way during the last year, the foodservice team at Lee’s Summit R-7 School District in Lee's Summit, Mo., has had to adapt on a dime. And such constant pivoting can breed constant stress, as FSDs around the country have learned firsthand in recent months.

Here’s how Lori Danella, the district’s nutrition director, has been working to keep staff spirits up during these trying times.

Small gestures make a big impact.

Everyone needs slices of joy this year, and Danella delivers in several ways. Earlier this year, she started a weekly staff newsletter that she packs full of kind words from grateful parents, inspiring quotes, team member shoutouts, funny memes and more. She’s treated the staff to pizza on several Fridays. And little presents are commonplace: Danella recently handed out “Snowman Soup” packages of hot chocolate, a candy cane, a slice of pumpkin bread and marshmallows.

“Even from the men, who I don’t necessarily usually hear from on this stuff, I got emails thanking me for these gestures,” Danella says. “It makes a difference.”

Have a sense of humor.

“We jokingly say that when someone’s going to the freezer, they’re going to chill out or yell,” Danella says. "One day things weren’t going right—one of the buses forgot milk, and a million other things—and I was mad. Everyone was joking, ‘Oops, Lori’s going to go to the freezer again!’ Those little things keep us smiling.”

Get a little personal.

Danella’s colleagues nowknow more about me than they ever have,” she says. Sometimes that’s through lighthearted personal details, like photos of Danella’s dogs that she puts in the newsletter. Other times, it’s deeper and more emotional: because she’s not afraid to show frustration with a situation in the moment or to cry with a team member at the end of a hard day.

“It’s important to be right there with them because we’re all going through it,” she says. “People might say, ‘No, don’t do that—you’re the director! But I think I have so much more respect [because of it]. It’s a professional and a personal relationship.”

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