April 17, 2014

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Employee Engagement & Sustainability: The Employees’ Perspective

A creative and inclusive giving and volunteering campaign can go a long way in keeping employees committed, interested and, perhaps more importantly, encouraged about our collective future.

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By Kal Stein, EarthShare

Much has been made of how companies benefit from engaged employees, but let’s look at the flip side - what do employees get out of participating in workplace giving programs?

Research shows that organizations with engaged employees perform better, while billions of dollars are lost due to disengaged workers. In our experience, employees develop a deep sense of satisfaction and pride when participating in workplace giving programs, invaluable to both the employees and the business.

Tiffany Sanford, a scientist at Asuragen, promotes and organizes her workplace-giving program because "doing this kind of work is important for me, our health and the health of the environment."

"This is what’s truly important in this world. Just being a person on this planet, I feel like it’s my responsibility to ensure that I’m doing all that I can to make a difference,” Sanford stated in a recent conversation.

Another acquaintance who recently changed jobs told me over lunch last week that her new employee engagementemployer's employee-led affinity groups were a big factor in her decision to take the job.

These are not isolated examples.

With a tidal wave of sentiment toward employer-sanctioned activism, businesses have amped up their workplace giving programs and volunteer opportunities, turning their employees into assets. Further, a Lloyd Morgan survey showed that engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization, and emotional engagement is four times more valuable than rational engagement in propelling employee effort.

But, despite the high number of workers who actively seek out these benefits, there are many others who have never participated in volunteering through their workplace, and more who might not want to get involved at all.

So how does a company make participation attractive to all employees? To increase participation, employees must first be engaged. One way to tackle this dilemma is to answer the question I started this post with: How can engagement benefit the employee?

What Does “Engaged” Mean?

Many employees come to work and simply do their jobs - no more, no less.

And at a time when many workplaces have reduced staff and are trying to accomplish more with less, engaging employees can be especially challenging. But the investment is worth it: employees who are engaged care about the success of the company and want to grow within the organization and develop EarthShare: How to Waste Less Foodtheir skills within the context of the business. Engaged employees talk about their companies positively outside of work and are proud cheerleaders. They're the best word-of-mouth marketers for your company.

Manner of Engagement

As EarthShare’s SVP of National Business Development Mary MacDonald discussed recently, there are six essential steps you must take before beginning a workplace engagement program, including getting leadership on board. The planning stage is very important, as are the tools that an organization employs.

However, to appeal to all employees, companies will need to look beyond that.

Companies should tailor their campaign to fit their workplace culture, and accept employee input as to what organizations they would like to support. But the manner of support should fit as well. Play to your employees’ strengths. Offering volunteer opportunities within employees’ comfort zone can spark interest and build long-term commitment.

If you run a landscape architecture firm, supporting a land conservation organization might be obvious -- but volunteering to help schoolchildren plant trees in a local park is another way to engage employees that’s related to the goals and values of the company.

Volunteering Can Lead to Emotional Engagement

According to LBG Associates, workplace giving programs that allow employees to donate a few dollars per paycheck to causes they care about have raised more than $100 billion for charities over the past 35 years. But more and more employers are recognizing that volunteerism is also an essential component of employee engagement.

It might be difficult to measure in dollars, but volunteerism and partnerships between NGOs and businesses can not only drive significant change, but also inspire a real emotional attachment to a cause. The more flexible and creative a company can be with their giving ideas, the better chance they have at appealing to more employees.

Bryan Duggan, manager of office services at PVH, described how his colleagues embraced the giving programs he helped put into place. According to Duggan, high rates of participation translated into extreme pride in their workplace.

“It’s given people a sense of being part of something greater than themselves. They can go home and say, ‘we built a house today...we raised money for a women’s shelter.’”

Overcoming Reluctance or Apathy

Despite your best efforts, there still might be employees who are hesitant to get involved. Now would Employee volunteerismbe the time to highlight the individual benefits of volunteering. When volunteering, employees are given the chance to take on other roles, learn new skills, and add valuable experience to their resume. If the employee is looking to move up in the company, they can point to their volunteerism experience as proof of comparable skills.

In fact, many companies offer employees the opportunity to travel internationally on volunteer projects, giving participants a unique chance to be part of a project or an environmental mission that will impact another community for a long time to come. It becomes a personal legacy, made possible by their employer.

PepsiCo, for example, offers an interesting example to illustrate my point. The company recently piloted a volunteer four-week program to Ghana, where eight employees, from five countries and diverse business units, formed two teams to drive two initiatives: improving the management of clean water resources and promoting eco-tourism to generate more resources for clean water and sanitation. One day a week, the team came together to visit local schools to support hygiene education.

Amanda MacArthur, vice president of CDC Development Solutions, described the experience as “action learning on steroids." The volunteers not only got to use their skill sets to solve problems and come up with execution strategies, they also learned important lessons in the cultural sensitivities of a global economy.

Creative volunteer opportunities are definitely one way to inspire workers. Yet another is creative rewards. Employers can make giving and volunteering fun by rewarding workers who go above and Food drivebeyond what's delegated or needed. Depending on your culture and hierarchy, prizes can range from extra time off, work-at-home days and lunch with top executives to public recognition and incentives. Career boosters like these make volunteering more professionally rewarding and work more emotionally rewarding.

Timing is Everything

When you start a business, pundits say location is everything. With employee engagement, timing is everything.

There are times of the year – such as summer – when employees are naturally a little less enthusiastic at work, no matter how engaged they might be otherwise. These are perfect times to introduce a volunteering project to break up the monotony and spur some creative thinking.

Just as a year-end holiday campaign can remind employees about the spirit of giving, the opportunity to get out of the office in the summer months can inspire employees by giving them a much-needed break from their desks to give back and enjoy the great outdoors.

The numbers certainly show that employee engagement is enormously beneficial to companies, but it’s important not to lose sight of what employees get out of it. In an era where the workforce is increasingly diverse, the economy is not yet fully stable, and eligible and deserving causes seem endless, people want to make a difference and often expect their employers to lead the way.

A creative and inclusive giving and volunteering campaign can go a long way in keeping employees committed, interested and, perhaps more importantly, encouraged about our collective future.

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Related:

Picking the Right Workplace Giving Tools: 6 Critical Questions to Ask

The Anatomy of Green Teams: Igniting Change

4 Environmental Issues That Matter to Employees – and Employers

Progress or Propaganda? The Corporation's Role in Promoting Workplace Giving

The Virtuous Cycle of Workplace Philanthropy

The Basic Rules of Impact: EarthShare CEO Connects the Dots

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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