By now, you’ve read the headlines, scanned the article, and listened to the talking head experts opine about the evils of the modern office place. Amazon is now the symbol of the modern day Victorian factory – a place where people toil ungodly hours for a faceless corporation, receive little in compensation and struggle to keep themselves and their families healthy. The curtain behind your Prime account is starting to lift, and this week, Amazon fought back with choice words (just as the All-American lawsuit begins to take off).
Our pal Ryan Scott at Causecast wrote a great article last week making the link between Amazon’s disengagement and its lack of community service programs. Scott outlined what many have been saying for years: Amazon is far behind every major company on the planet when it comes to supporting the communities in which it operates.
But is Amazon the only company failing to maximize its efforts to engage its employees in the community? Or is every company in the tech industry “making the world a better place”, as the show Silicon Valley satirically claims?
The answer is somewhere in the middle. The tech industry is likely a microcosm of the entire practice of corporate citizenship. There are good guys – Google, Cisco, and Facebook all recently made the Top 10 in Fortune Magazine’s annual Change the World index. There are “middle of the pack” companies who provide dollars for doers and matching gift programs, happy with less than 10% participation rates. And, as stated above, there are laggards – Amazon being one of them.
Back in April, I wrote about Deloitte’s proclamation of a “looming engagement crisis” around the world. Given that Amazon’s exposé has reignited the discussion on disengagement in the office, we’ve republished the list below as a reminder of how a strategic corporate volunteering program can help eliminate the engagement crisis. Click here to see the original post.
How Volunteering Engages Your Employees
87% of employees who volunteered with their companies reported an improved perception of their employer, while 94% of employee volunteers believed volunteerism was a core component or positive influence on job satisfaction.
When companies act pro-socially, employees view themselves in a positive light, generating trust between you and your employee.
A company’s commitment to the community can live or die with middle management – employees will believe in their boss if they know they meaningfully support causes they care about.
64% of employees who actively volunteer said that volunteering with work colleagues has strengthened their work relationships. Millennials who frequently participate in their company’s volunteer activities are twice as likely to rate their corporate culture as very positive, as compared to Millennials who rarely or never volunteer.
In a major study by the University of Georgia, employees who volunteered “worked harder, were more willing to help their colleagues, [talked] positively about their company, [and] were less likely to waste time at work or miss meetings.” They just tend to be better performing individuals.
For people that volunteered within the last year:
74% say that volunteering makes them feel healthier.
94% say that volunteering improves their mood.
78% say that volunteering lowers their stress levels.
A 2008 study found that companies that enable employees to volunteer produce affective commitment, creating a warm perception of themselves and the organization they work for as helpful, caring, and benevolent.
Do you work for a tech company? Want to learn more about how community service can engage your colleagues more? Give us a call. We’re always happy to chat.
Why is volunteering important? What is it about doing something good for someone else without compensation that has drawn the attention and investment of multiple sectors? Governments, corporations, non-governmental organizations, academia, and even noble families have looked to volunteering for solutions to problems that have otherwise gone unsolved. Why is our hope placed here?
Without question, the contribution of time and other resources to charities and their communities is profoundly valuable. Without these contributions, our world would have a grave deficit of social, human, and physical capital. But the power of volunteering lies in more than its utilitarian application. As passionate volunteers will profess, it is not the transaction that motivates them; rather, it is the transformation that occurs in their own lives. At a more clinical level, this occurrence can be referred to as the potential to generate transformative value.
What is transformative value?
Transformative value reaches beyond the immediate contexts and circumstances of volunteers and the communities they serve. Rather than exchanging time or resources for the reward of making a difference, we bring ourselves to a space where we are given the potential to be made different. That “space” can take on a variety of forms. Sometimes we experience it the same as we would any other day, but other times we are prepared to allow volunteering to make us vulnerable. It’s in those times that we find ourselves moved – sometimes even to tears. Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner described it like this:
You never know what may cause tears. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high-school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.
They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not, they are speaking to you the mystery of where you have come from and summoning you to where you should go to next.
Volunteering, particularly when it allows participants to come face to face with the person who benefits from their contribution, may unexpectedly cause an emotional response. This response can come from being overwhelmed by the need in front of us, but more often than not, it comes from the change we feel taking place within us, the gradual undoing of our preconceived notions of people and society. Change is never guaranteed and it certainly cannot be forced. But typically when the specific volunteering experience we participate with is set up as transformative space, three core elements will occur:
Volunteers will be ushered into an understanding of the greater purpose behind their work, which will cause the assumptions they arrived with to be disrupted.
When their assumptions are disrupted, volunteers will do their work with an expanded frame of reference, resulting in an experience that is different from what they expected.
Volunteers will be guided through critical reflection that will shape their sense-making process and permanently influence their attitudes and behaviors.
Essentially, transformative value generates empathy. As psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman says: “Reducing the economic gap may be impossible without also addressing the gap in empathy.”
The unique role of corporations
Most people do not formally volunteer. Many who volunteer for the first time this year will do so through their places of work. Corporations are the gatekeepers to transformation, to empathy creation, to improving human lives globally. This is a unique, historic, and powerful position – and frankly, companies need help knowing what to do with this enormous and unprecedented responsibility.
A global initiative – IMPACT 2030
Ultimately, companies will accomplish their heavy mandate better by tackling it together, through multi-sector collaboration. IMPACT 2030 presents that opportunity for collaboration. It is a business led coalition that mobilizes corporate volunteers to contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By aligning the volunteer activities of businesses around the world with the SDGs, IMPACT 2030 equips corporations with resources to build and expand their current programs, while increasing the impact of the SDGs.
Fundamentally, IMPACT 2030 is a movement. It represents the belief that corporate volunteering — when used in concert with the United Nations, peer companies, government, academia, and civil society — is a powerful tool to accelerate the global achievement of the SDGs and inspire the private sector to positive action. If employees are supported as the primary actors in creating change, IMPACT 2030 will prove to be transformative at a global level.
IMPACT 2030 was launched in 2010 by Realized Worth in partnership with the United Nations Office of Partnerships. The initiative is a collaboration of companies around the world, of all sizes, to mobilize their employees in volunteer efforts towards the achievement of the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals that will be announced in September of 2015.
IMPACT 2030 will:
raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals to employees around the world;
convene companies, the United Nations, governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies and civil society organizations to initiate joint commitments and actions;
develop a framework for corporate volunteering that will establish standards, protocols and principles across companies, industries and regions aligned with the SDGs;
create and maintain the global diversity of IMPACT 2030 through multi-sector regional voice forums;
develop a yearly evidence based research study that tracks both the growing impact and the collective results of the IMPACT 2030 network on the development agenda;
advocate as appropriate for policy changes to aid in the facilitation of community based and cross-border volunteering around the world.
Companies of all sizes and geographic locations are invited to become an IMPACT 2030 Founding or Collaborating Partner. Companies can also join other stakeholders, including civil society, governments, philanthropic organizations, and academic institutions, by participating in the IMPACT 2030 network. You can read more here or contact us here to set up a phone call. We would welcome a conversation with you.
Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs. Call us to discuss opportunities for your company, or email us via firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter.
Recently, a CSR leader in a certain industry asked me a very common question. For the sake of the storytelling, let’s pretend that they are one of many companies that make unicorn saddles.
“What are all the other Unicorn Saddle companies doing with their workplace giving and employee engagement efforts?”
“Why?” I asked.
“I want to make sure we’re in step with them, I want to make sure we’re trending, that we’re keeping up.”
“Ah,” I answered, “That’s what I suspected. What are you hoping to hear?”
The unicorn saddle CSR leader laughed, “I guess I don’t know. I just want to make sure we’re not doing too much or too little in comparison?”
Oh, no. I mean sure, harmony in general is a good thing. It’s both pleasing to the ear and the atmosphere. In the matter of CSR, however, harmony—especially among industry leaders—is, well, kinda one note. Oh look, all of the same unicorn saddle companies offer their employees paid time off to volunteer, a solid workplace giving annual campaign focused on choice, and a moderate dollars for doers program. Neat. *yawn*
By Ben Bisbee
Like the efforts of a large choir, the harmony of the collective efforts of everyone singing the same song looks impressive, but at its core it’s not necessarily dynamic. Now, balance that against the gripping passion and energy of a singing contest? Individual singers, singing their hearts out against one another to be number one? Now that is a thrill to watch and hear. Why? It’s multi-faceted, it’s competitive, and it’s often precarious.
“But Ben, CSR is an industry standard … we’re not going for precarious …”
And that’s your mistake. No, really. Let me show you.
CSR has been an industry standard since at least the mid 1980s, with its roots first taking hold in the mid 1960s. It was originally a way for a businesses to showcase a self regulatory environment focused on the topics of public image, industry law, ethics, and international and environmental efforts. Over time, it became an industry forum for a company to articulate to its current and potential investors, its employees, and consumers how compassionate and forward thinking it is within its industry and the community.
But like any new, cool thing, it often falls prey to standards—and worse—those standards then become the box in which the program lives instead of just a set of markers or best practices. And worse still is that everyone starts to line their boxes up in neat little rows to stay even more standardized to effectively harmonize. *frowny face*
There will be a moment when you stop and ask “Why am I doing this again?” Remember who benefits from your actions. Remember that you’re doing amazing things on behalf of your company for people and causes that matter.
What happened? Why this choral effect among the world of CSR efforts? As for me, I have my theories. In brief, I think it’s easy to continue to standardize things into oblivion. This level of standardization helps to ensure that the public will see a company as clear, simple, and focused.
But that’s the thing about singing competitions: you can’t rely on the guy next to you to take up the slack. You can’t rely on the rest of the choir. You have to sing proudly and strongly while focused on the challenge. You have to do this while facing anxiety and be willing to take chances and make mistakes all in the name of hitting those highest of notes to take your song to the finish line.
Just as in the world of corporate social responsibility, you need to dig deeper on the issues you, your employees, and your consumers care about. You need to find new and creative ways to create impact and to build new norms. You need to be willing to get dirty and sweaty and anxious and brave.
“But Ben, I rely on the choir. I don’t have the singing skills to win a contest!”
For the record, I don’t believe you; but I’ll entertain the thought. And because I’m such a great guy, I’ll even give you a few ideas to help you believe in yourself and sing like you’ve never sung before!
Reconnect with your musical passions.
Why is your company invested in CSR? Oh sure, it’s a common business standard. But really … why? Maybe you believe your company can change the world. Maybe you are invested in creating opportunities for your employees or customers help you create social impact. Maybe it just looks good to the investors. We all like to look good; there is no harm in that. But it’s time to reconnect with your roots and the passions associated with your company’s CSR program. This will only serve to help you grow and enhance your program.
Find a singing coach.
I’m not here to solicit you on behalf of a really wonderful—often handsome—set of folks who occasionally let me write on their blog. No, there are several ways to find good coaching: industry peers, CSR conferences, and companies like this one. But essentially, find a coach; find someone to inspire you. Sometimes you just need someone to help you with the vision or offer you the practice or program support. These opportunities exist; you just need to seek them out.
No, really. Do you support programs that deal with issues likes children’s hunger or disaster or adult literacy? Passionately? Do you know of other companies that also support these issues? Take it to the next level. Work to be the best supporter in the industry. Offer your employees more time off or more matching or work with specific nonprofits to develop mutually effective custom programs that focus on real solutions. Get hungry. Get competitive. Go further on behalf of your programs and your passions.
Remember the audience.
There will be a moment when you stop and ask “Why am I doing this again?” Remember who benefits from your actions. Remember that you’re doing amazing things on behalf of your company for people and causes that matter. In those moments when it will feel precarious, remember the benefactors and the lives you affect, and not just those on the receiving end, but also your investors, employees, and consumers—now and future.
What can CSR as a singing contest gain us? What happens when someone steps away from the choir and performs a solo? Or better yet, people get competitive in their singing? In the world of CSR you see managers sharpening their skills. You see employees challenged to try new things and dig deeper. You see the public committing more deeply to the causes of the company because essentially the company themselves are so deeply committed. The true harmony for effective change is dynamic voices working to sing the best and loudest, not trying to sound like everyone else.
Habits emerge without our permission. We live our lives driven by cues, routines, and rewards that have quietly developed over time. Rarely do we step back to ask, “Is this habit what I want?” Or more importantly: “Is this habit enabling or blocking my path to becoming who I want to be?”
Habits don’t disappear, but they can be replaced. The secret is in identifying a keystone habit and building a structure around it where other habits can flourish. This structure establishes a culture where change becomes contagious.
Let’s assume you want to be more productive, more patient with your coworkers, and you want to exercise more. What keystone habit is likely to affect each of these goals? Sleep. If your goal is productivity, patience, and exercise, your keystone habit is: get 8 hours of sleep every night. Focus on your keystone habit and the other habits will flourish.
What does this have to do with corporate citizenship?
Corporate citizenship is about behavior change. Behavior change on a mass scale leads to culture change within companies. Change of this magnitude begins when new habits take root in the lives of employees. Volunteering? Sure, we want to volunteer – in many cases, we even believe we should. But we also want to lose weight and stop drinking. Why is it so hard to do what we want to do?
“Movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habit of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participant’s sense of self.”
It’s hard to do what we want to do because our lives are ruled by cues, routines, and rewards that we react to without thinking. When brake lights flash on in front of you, do you stop to think before your foot moves toward the brake pedal? Habits are how our brains remain efficient and help us survive – but they are also what can keep us from the results we want in work, relationships, and personal development.
Companies hope that their employee’s desire to volunteer alone will result in great participation rates in their corporate citizenship programs, as if it were a desire to go the gym or get up without hitting the snooze button. But the truth is, behavior change (habit change) is a psychological endeavor. The good news? Getting started is not as difficult as it sounds.
3 Steps to Making Corporate Volunteering a Habit
1. Dress it in Old Habits.
Our brains have a hard time accepting the unfamiliar. Most of what is new in our lives comes packaged in what we already know. New friends are introduced by old friends. New jobs include elements of old jobs. Even radio stations will play new songs in between Celine Dion and Norah Jones just to enable listeners to accept the new sound.
Package program participation in familiar habits. There are myriad ways to do this; here are some ideas:
Most employees understand the value of team building and expect their managers to provide opportunities that promote and increase team effectiveness. Instead of a ropes course, try building a Habitat house.
Volunteering offers a wider variety of opportunities to develop new skills and hone existing abilities than typical training or professional development courses.
Leveraging the experience, enthusiasm, and energy of employees who volunteer more than forty hours a year is dependable strategy for success. Find these champions of volunteering and collaborate with them as leaders to build your program.
Use existing forums to educate employees on what is available to them. Recently, when an RW client added upcoming volunteer opportunities to their morning team meetings, the resulting participation was immediate and significant.
2. Enforce it With Social Habits.
Movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habit of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participant’s sense of self.
Volunteers will participate for the first time because they were asked by someone they know. Capitalize on the power of friendship to increase participation.
Volunteers will stay because they’re part of a team. Use positive peer pressure and the influence of community to create commitment.
Volunteers will advocate for a program to which they feel a sense of belonging. Empower strong leaders to inspire a sense of ownership that will result in self propelling habits.
3. Make it the Keystone Habit.
At Realized Worth we refer to this as “the value bundle.” Do your employees crave meaningful social interaction, more time with their kids, and a chance to network with other departments at work? What routine can help them achieve these goals? Volunteering. Determine what’s in it for your employees and then bundle the value. Make volunteering the keystone habit that enables them to become who they want to be.
This strategy is essential because the opportunity to volunteer has to be evaluated alongside other motivational priorities that have been established over a lifetime. The more closely you can align the new behavior of volunteering with these existing priorities, the more likely employees will see volunteering as something that makes sense.
Still sounds hard?
Realized Worth would love to work with you to make volunteering a habit at your company. We exist for this very thing! Send us an email via email@example.com and we’ll set up a call to talk about what you need and whether we’re the right people to get you there. You can also connect with us on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.