The Healing Justice Organization

Many social services and social justice organizations may, unfortunately and likely unknowingly, be replicating disempowering and destructive structures, patterns, and cultures. Indeed, most non-profit organizations unconsciously draw from organizational norms inspired by business and corporate values and practices, including emphases on efficiency, the bottom line, hierarchy, and accountability to the top, rather than the bottom. For many of the students and the community workers I educate, this results in a profound dissonance between the realities of what have been called “the non-profit industrial complex” (Incite!, 2009), and the values of empathy, human service, and social justice. Furthermore, recent cuts in social services organizations have resulted in regressive actions toward workers, such as converting work to part-time and contract work, and eliminating health care and other benefits for workers (Cohen & Hyde, 2013). Many organizations actually turn out to be hostile environments for workers who give their hearts and souls to their avocations. The term, burnout, does not really do justice to what is actually transpiring here. For many workers, it becomes a dizzying combination of dissonance, distrust, and disempowerment as they work to heal their communities at the same time they are hurting themselves.

All of this is transpiring in the same moment that workplace wellness programs are a growing trend in public, for-profit, and non-profit organizations across the globe. To be sure, these programs are resulting in a variety of positive outcomes such as reduced turnover, less work stress, and higher job satisfaction (Cox & Steiner, 2013). Human resources departments, along with Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), are offering smoking cessation programs, workshops on work-life balance, mindfulness programs, group fitness challenges, and stress reduction programs. And yet, rallying cries for self-care by management and other leaders can fall on deaf ears when no changes are being made to the organizational environment, working conditions, work load, pay, and other tangible benefits. It’s a little victim blaming to say to someone “you should really eat a healthier lunch,” “be more mindful,” or “get some exercise on your break,” while otherwise maintaining a debilitating and disempowering stressful work environment. This puts the onus for self-care and indeed healing justice on the backs of workers rather than the people who have greater capability to actually make changes to work load, work culture, and other critical employee policies that could really make a difference. To be sure, making such structural changes are necessary conditions for healing justice.

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