PROJECT POTLUCK: Not Just A Social Stigma Anymore

Posted: Nov 29, 2012
Views: 4155 - Comments: 6

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Low morale may be an unwelcome guest in every workplace, but is undeniably present in most job places at some point or another. It can be a chore to boost morale, but can also be especially challenging in a critical care ER hospital: a fast paced, high-stress with long hours, often sad environment. Compassion fatigue is common, the highs and lows can leave a person drained and feeling under-appreciated.

Last winter we found ourselves entrenched in bad spirits. Schedules changed, cutbacks were made, and often staffing felt barebones. The holidays were upon us (stress), the daylight hours dwindled (Oregon = gray), making the joys of our job seemed few and far between. It became clear that we needed change and maybe we needed to do it for ourselves.

How could we bring our team together and make it enjoyable? Trust falls would be a liability. Dodgeball is too passive-aggressive. There isn’t a ropes course set up in ER (yet!). Truth or Dare has the potential to end up like a 5th grade girl’s slumber party (tears and torture).

Is it possible to make an assumption about most hospitals? Are we all so food motivated that one will eat a mystery slice of pizza that has been on the counter for days? Yes. It’s probably reasonable to assume that. Food is often brought into our hospital by other employees, clients and sometimes local businesses, but usually the day crew is the only one to reap these rewards. So this gave us an idea.

We started Project Potluck. Or rather, it started as a pretty wacky e-mail:

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Sat 1/14/2012 2:15 AM
Subject: ~~Overnight Fiesta Pot Luck!!~~

Hola los niños y niñas!

Nikki and I were talking about having an overnight potluck every once and a while and decided that the first one should be a taco bar fiesta theme. So if everyone is into the idea, the taco bar pot luck will be on the overnight shift of Friday, January 20th starting around midnight. Please hit "reply all" and let everyone know what you plan to bring. I'll send up a follow up email a few days before to let everyone know what is missing. *I can bring the hot sauces, daiya, and a drink.



List of items (feel free to add  more):
+taco meat
+vegan taco meat, tofu, etc.
+soft taco shells
+hard taco shells
+lettuce or cabbage or both
+diced tomatoes
+Daiya cheese
+diced onions
+tortilla chips
+hot sauce

+lemonade, horchata, etc.

From there a buzz started on the floor. We found that everyone got really excited about the event and on the night of our “Fiesta” we had more food than we could eat! Everyone was in good spirits and productivity increased; a sense of comradery was beaming from the treatment floor.

Our teammates quickly started asking when and what the next potluck would be. Other shifts started to hear about our event and became jealous. Since that time we have had: Soup and Salad Bar, Chili Cook-off, “The Sandwiching Hour” (sandwich bar), “Pasta Fantastica”, and “Live and Let Thai”. We get a little weird with the emails but the potlucks always end up being fun and delicious. Future plans include a Middle Eastern potluck and a holiday White Elephant event (who knows what that will bring!)

So why are we writing a blog about this? Because it is important! No, not potlucks… It’s important to be happy at work! Our jobs are rightly serious but it is crucial to take the time to lighten the mood and appreciate each other. And it helps us remember why we are here. If you are experiencing similar scenarios at your clinic, get creative! You don’t have to use our idea but we hope this inspires you. 



Sarah Crisp's picture

There's nothing better for my morale than a taco feast around 3am.

Megan Brashear's picture

Tacos and pasta fantastica?! Makes me long for my overnight days. The Thanksgiving potlucks shoved into our mouths at the top of the stairs in our old hospital are still some of my favorite memories of overnights. And chowing down on frosted sugar cookies... There are no food rules on overnight!

Sara LaBeth's picture

This is awesome! With Cinco de Mayo around the corner, I'm making this happen.

Katie Szydlowski's picture

Hi! I know this is a REALLY late comment, but I am slowly going through all of the blogs/videos about compassion fatigue, wellness activities, etc. to try and incorporate some fun/healthy activities at my own clinic. I love the ideas and was wondering if there were any other tips/videos in the works or that we could just share in the comments?

Kaitlyn Sanborn's picture

Hi Katie,

Never too late to comment about wellness, it's always important! We have a handful of blogs and videos about wellness in the workplace on the site, but I'd love to share some details here.

We're still really big fans of potlucks at DoveLewis, but art therapy is also important to us and there are lots of different things you can do here. Coloring sheets are a great place to start, they generally don't take up too much space and aren't messy. If you have a break area with room for larger projects you can do things like felt or sewing crafts, or if your team isn't super into art projects then a jigsaw puzzle in the break area can be a fun alternative.

We recently hosted a Wellness Month and incorporated lots of food and art therapy, but we also asked local businesses if they could donate anything. For example, we reached out to a massage school and they happened to have a program where students could volunteer massage services! So we were able to have someone come to our hospital and do chair massages for the staff on breaks, which was awesome. We also made wellness flyers to hang up around the hospital, things like reminders to drink water or debunking health myths, and we put up a calendar so people could share wellness activities outside of work if they wanted.

If you have more questions about our wellness activities, feel free to shoot me an email at I'd love to hear what other folks are doing for wellness in their clinics!