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Top Workplace: At the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay the stakes are high, but the job rewarding

Thomas Young, right, takes a call for someone in need of counseling at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay in Tampa. The Crisis Center fields call dealing with suicide, sexual assault, homelessness and other traumatic situations. They also do outreach, counseling and operate Transcare, an ambulance service. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Thomas Young, right, takes a call for someone in need of counseling at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay in Tampa. The Crisis Center fields call dealing with suicide, sexual assault, homelessness and other traumatic situations. They also do outreach, counseling and operate Transcare, an ambulance service. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Apr. 5, 2019

TAMPA — The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay's employees are a lifeline to the community.

Some field calls from people contemplating suicide or struggling with homelessness. Some work directly with those who have survived domestic violence or sexual assault. Others drive ambulances or transport people in wheelchairs.

But even with emotionally taxing jobs, the majority of the Crisis Center's roughly 200 employees love their jobs. The nonprofit has made it to the top 30 mid-size workplaces for the last three years and jumped three spots to No. 18.

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"Crisis Center employees are tasked with helping someone find hope and healing, but it is vital for us to remember they are people," said president and CEO Clara Reynolds. "They are dealing with some very difficult subjects and we know they cannot help someone if they don't take care of themselves, and part of our role is to help them identify coping strategies to maintain a healthy well-being."

So how does the Crisis Center ensure employees not only avoid burnout from high emotional labor, but thrive and love their jobs?

Katie Androff, the non-profit's vice president of talent management, said the Crisis Center is upfront with potential hires about the work's challenges. The hiring team ensures they're the right fit for the demanding positions.

"Our employees are the most compassionate and empathetic people you'll ever meet," Androff said. "They're not here to make $1 million. They're here to make an impact on their community."

Androff said one of the first things staffers get used to is regular check-ins. New employee have set 30-, 60- and 90-day check-ins to discuss how they're adjusting. There are also regular, more casual, check-ins — like coworkers asking each other about their "SUDS."

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It's an acronym for "Subjective Unit of Distress Scale." When asked about their SUDS, employees will respond with a number from one to 10. Ten is the most distressed.

There are self-care groups to talk and vent. If anyone's SUDS score is a five or above, Androff said supervisors will meet with her or him to sort out how to get to a healthier place.

At the Crisis Center, talking about stress is built into the job. There's an inherent openness and employees are encouraged to ask for help. That's a mentality that could benefit other workplaces, Androff said.

"Regardless of the work you do, there is stress," she said. "There's a stigma that if you need to take a break or are struggling emotionally that you're weak. That's not our culture."

The Crisis Center has several rooms and lounge areas designed as "self-care spaces," where workers can unwind after tough calls or in-person sessions with victims of abuse. Outside, there's a butterfly garden with picnic tables. A massage therapist comes in at least once a month. Staff trained in yoga, chi kung and other breathing exercises offer regular free classes and training.

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Some of those staffers' special certifications came through the nonprofit's 2-year-old tuition reimbursement program. While similar programs often have restrictions, Androff said employees are supported and reimbursed even if the education they're getting is unrelated to the job they hold.

"Our philosophy is that we want to better the employee as a person," she said.

So far, about 30 employees have taken advantage of the program, which is available to any worker after a year of employment.

Outside of the office, the Crisis Center regularly holds events to keep employees feeling motivated and appreciated. There's an annual holiday party, barbecues and a family picnic. An Easter Egg hunt and egg-spoon races are planned for this spring.

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Reynolds makes a point to meet with the transportation employees out in the field at least once a month. She will work some late shifts so the night-side crisis line teams have a chance to speak with her.

"The Crisis Center would not be the organization it is today without a trauma-informed environment and our wonderful staff who respond to our community every day," Reynolds said. "It is an honor to work alongside these individuals."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.
ABOUT THE COMPANY
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay helps people get help and connect with services if they're facing life challenges or trauma from sexual assault, suicidal thoughts, domestic violence, financial distress or emotional problems.
Employees: 194
Location: Tampa
Website: www.crisiscenter.com

EMPLOYEE COMMENTS
"I get to spend my time doing something I love and do well. I get to connect with other people who are passionate about serving and empowering others. I get to work with amazing leaders who work hard to make sure this is a healthy place to work and keep the mission first. I am not just a number here. This place magnifies my strengths and helps me improve my weaknesses."

"Not only am I helping others and building the career I have always dreamed of but I have found an organization that truly values its employees. Before starting at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay I did not believe such a place existed. I have a great relationship with my manager and coworkers and overall could not be happier!"

"I feel valued and respected. I feel I am contributing to something that is larger than myself and doing positive work in the community."