Workplace Traditions

An average US worker spends 92,120 hours or 35% of waking hours over a typical work life span at work. This is according to an August 2016 article on Interestingly enough, if you search this topic, there is VERY little information available!

Regardless of actual statistics, I think we can all agree that many of us spend a significant number of hours working. Second to home, work is often the most common place we spend our time. In light of this, a workplace community is critical to employee satisfaction and well- being. Workplace traditions bring a sense of community, connectedness, and celebration.

I love participating in workplace traditions and hearing what others are doing. Each workplace has distinct differences that should be taken into consideration when establishing workplace traditions. An organization with one office of 5 people is going to vary dramatically from one office of 1,000 people. An organization with multiple sites within one state is distinct from an organization with sites throughout the US or with international offices. Here are just a few of the descriptors of Service Alternatives, which contribute to the variety of workplace traditions that have been established within our organization to date.

Note the ‘to date.’ A thriving organization should have constantly evolving traditions that reflect the people, new ideas, new energy, and new kinds of work.

  • Approximately 550 employees
    • 548 of these employees are spread around Washington State
    • 1 employee is in South Dakota!
    • 1 employee is in New Jersey!
  • Hundreds of subcontractors and dozens of foster families
  • Work spread across 4 different service divisions with distinct programs.
  • Some urban programs; some rural
  • Tremendous longevity differences in employees; we have many employees in who have been here 20 years or longer as well as a significant number of employees who have been with us two years or fewer…and all of those in the middle!

I reached out to some of our folks here at SA to find out what kinds of things they do to add some fun, meaningful recognition, and lightheartedness to work. This is what was shared. I hope you enjoy!


Seasonal Traditions

For many of us, seasons mark times of change and meaningful dates to celebrate.

  • Office Birthday Calendar
  • Our Walla Walla program has an annual Christmas party/potluck for the families of staff and foster parents/kids. Angie says, “We include a white elephant gift exchange for the foster parents with gifts that we buy. We also give each child in our program a gift at the party.”
    • Some other things we do are summer bbq for the kids in the program and buying basic school supplies for each child.
  • Anniversaries and birthdays are celebrated monthly or quarterly with personalized small gifts.
  • Annual summertime water slide trips
  • Service Alternatives started on Halloween in 1983. With this time of year, costume parties and pumpkin carving have been ongoing traditions throughout the years.



Some offices thrive on humor, thrive on fun, and bring an element of creativity that keeps folks on their toes!  

  • Olivia is an ‘office doll’ that is sometimes used for training purposes. She is a permanent resident of our Lynnwood office and, more often than helping out in trainings, she is often found doing mischievous things throughout the office. Sometimes she is dressed in very fancy outfits; sometimes she scares people by hiding in a closet. Here is a picture of our friend Olivia!
  • Our office mate, Claire, loves candy! Some of her co-workers create fake invoices for her, charging her for the candy she has consumed.



As I categorized the various workplace traditions, it appears that the ‘Food’ category wins!

  • In my office, the holiday potluck always includes some fun games that Becca designs. Prizes are always included and there is some pretty stiff competition!
  • Taco Tuesdays (several offices participate in the local ‘Taco Tuesdays’ offered at many Mexican establishments!)
  • Every November one Whidbey Island program hosts ‘Soupvember’ where they have a calendar and people in the office sign up to bring in different soups throughout the month. There is an office crockpot which is available for use and the week’s soup schedule is sent out on Monday to everyone on the office. Some weeks there are multiple soups and others there is only one. Ashlee, says, “It’s my favorite month of the year at work!”
  • Brandy says, “I keep the coffee preferences in my outlook contacts of people I work with so I can periodically surprise them with a coffee when I’m at their office.”
    • Pluralism in coffee culture! Coffee is an obsession for all, and everyone has a different preference for prep and flavor. All traditions are honored and respected. Aelfy says, “Rarely do we joke about coffee!”
  • Our Sunnyside program gets together and makes breakfast as a team.


Awards and Appreciations

Awards and recognition are meaningful for many people. These are the two types of company wide awards given at Service Alternatives and some other awards are under consideration at this time.

  • Longevity: Each division of Service Alternatives recognizes longevity of employees. Appreciating employees for long-term commitment to an organization is so important. Longevity awards include some SA swag type items, gift cards to places of the employee’s choosing, and checks depending on the division and the longevity of the employee.
  • Fellowship: Service Alternatives has a Fellowship Award that is designed to recognize SA employees who display exceptional peer/team support through daily actions. While excellent client support and job performance are admirable qualities, this award is designed to show appreciation for extraordinary service to others within the workplace. Individuals are nominated by their teams and a Fellowship Committee determines the winner based on the quality of nominations. The person receives a framed certificate, a $250 check, and an article is written about them for the ESSAY (newsletter).
  • Thank you notes and prizes are given to staff to show appreciation for excellent work.



Publications that showcase an organization’s work are another type of tradition. At Service Alternatives, we have a few consistent publications that showcase employees, clients, and services.

  • The Essay (our organizational newsletter) is published twice per year and includes divisional articles, longevity award recipient articles, employee anniversaries, and Belinda’s article written by yours truly.
  • The “SATI Monthly” is created by our Training Institute leadership team and distributed within the division. Because of the incredible service diversity, the team stays up to date on each others’ areas and celebrates successes with a monthly update.
  • SA Happenings: SA Happenings are published every 2 months. A ‘happening’ is anything that shows how clients, communities, customers, co-workers or team’s potential are being advanced. We encourage staff to send as many as they want. A drawing then occurs and the lucky winner gets a $50 gift certificate to a place of their choice and a $50 gift card to treat their team with whatever they choose (some fancy office supplies, coffee, whatever sounds good). These are then published within SA for our employees to enjoy. We’ve also started sharing some of these Happenings on the blog so our greater communities can share in what’s going on at SA.
  • Annual Reports: This has been done every year by our Community and Employment Services division but we are now starting to produce this for our entire organization. This will be an annual tradition that we are excited to implement in the next month.



My personal opinion is that creating a welcoming environment is one of the more critical things we can do in workplaces to establish a sense of community. Here are a few of the ways welcoming is done at Service Alternatives. 

  • Welcome new team members with plants to signify growth and possibilities.
  • Welcome new team members with a children’s book that speak to the energy or quality that new person brings to their team.
  • Newly hired staff are recognized with an SA key chain.
  • Schedule ‘get to know you activities’ when a new office is created or new team members join. In fact, my new Lynnwood office is having an ice cream social next week.
  • Open House: when new offices are set up, schedule an open house. If the local community does ‘ribbon cutting ceremonies’ set those up. Invite employees, clients, family, and community members to celebrate the opening.


Team Meeting Rituals

First of all, having team meetings is a functional workplace tradition that improves quality of work and creates a sense of community. Beyond the meeting itself, holding rituals within the context of the meeting is a great way of enhancing community and including some fun! 

  • Each staff meeting/regional leadership meeting includes a team building exercise or something from ‘Building Team Spirit’ (a fantastic workbook created by Barry Heermann).
  • Agendas have space for
    • Learning
    • Serving
    • Organizational value check-ins/check-ups
  • A divisional ‘All Staff’ meeting is done annually. It is planned by the staff (not by the ‘leaders’).
  • In our Training Institute, there is a monthly Tee-Time (lately it evolved to Tea-Time). Tee-Time allows for team members to get together virtually or in-person to connect and have meaningful conversations from “how do you handle conflict” to “what are summer activities that you enjoy doing.” For each Tee-Time, an assigned facilitator decides the conversation topic and a planner helps out with the logistics of scheduling and technology. This time together allows the team to actively pursue one portion of their mission statement: ‘building long lasting quality relationships. Even though this team does not see each other day-in and day-out, Tee-Time is a reminder that meaningful relationships are vital in their pursuit of being global leaders of training and facilitation.
  • Fun and exciting games are played as a team before the team meeting starts.


Client and Customer Based Traditions

Our work at Service Alternatives is all about people! Here are some workplace traditions that highlight some of our clients.

  • Youth receive awards quarterly from staff members (character, strengths, talents, ability awards).
  • Youth in the residential programs give staff awards/certificates during the holidays. They are pretty funny and generally based on movie characters – They deemed Elaina “Old Yeller” one year and it was hysterical because she doesn’t yell!
  • An annual camping trip is held within our Adult Supported Living division. It allows for clients to have a great vacation and staff enjoy it every bit as much!
  • Annual foster parent celebrations are organized.
  • Awards are created by our employees to recognize excellent social workers and community members that provide excellent support to our clients.


Community Based Traditions

Our work at Service Alternatives is also all about our communities. We do work that helps community members thrive.

  • We find projects to do in the local community or the residential programs – get dirty, shoulder-to-shoulder type projects. Painting, yard work, etc.
  • Teams choose a cause and participate in fundraisers to support the cause.
  • Our staff and clients participate together in advocacy days in Olympia (our state capitol) to be voices for vulnerable people.
  • Our organization collects toiletries from hotels and donates them to a community organization. For many of us who travel regularly, we leave sample shampoo and soaps that we technically paid for with our reservation and that can be well used by shelters and other such community providers. Each year, the items are put in a container and team members guess the number of items. Whoever gets closest (yes, this means someone has to count each item!) gets to donate them to a community provider of their choice.


In closing, Christina, one of our long term managers, said, “Overall, we always work as a team which is very important for our program!” Workplace traditions are so important to strengthen company culture, enhance team spirit, and help each employee, client and community member to feel connected to the organization. Respect, teamwork, and kindness go a tremendous way on a daily basis and simply should not be overlooked.

Until next time!

Posted in Newsletter, Uncategorized.