The array of languages humans use to communicate with each other is vast. Across cultures and experiences, language gives way to expression of our experience of life and imbues a sense of meaning. In some languages, there are words and expressions to describe certain experiences that don’t exist in others. Take Filipino, for example. You know that urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute? It’s called “gigil.” Or how about that strange hope to die before someone you love deeply does, because you cannot stand to live without them? In Arabic, that’s “ya’arburnee.” Language shapes us. It orients us to what we value most as that thing rises up in us, calling for expression.
Even within one culture, language itself is varied. In 1961, Martin Joos, a linguist and German professor, defined five registers (or tenors) of language:
Frozen: the static register. This is the language that belongs to printed words, the Bible, the Pledge of Allegiance – words that stay the same every time.
Formal: the language of wealth and politics. This is the register of one-way participation where there is typically a proper format to follow like speeches, pronouncements or public introductions between politicians.
Consultative: the language of business. It is two-way, no prior knowledge is assumed, and interruptions are allowed. Consultative language typically takes place between teacher/student, employee/employer, doctor/patient, etc.
Casual: the language of groups. One must be a member to engage. Communication is dependent on nonverbal assists. This is common among friends in a social setting, on blogs, and in personal emails.
Intimate: the language of “know me.” This is the language of intimacy. It is non-public; intonation is more important than wording or grammar; it is private vocabulary. This is most common among lovers, family members, and close friends.
With each other, we can gauge the breadth and depth of our relationships by the language registers we have entered into. In business, we remain within the careful walls of formal and consultative language (sometimes slipping into casual when we are feeling safe or have had a drink) and it’s important that we do. Business is a tactical arrangement of human assets to achieve a goal. We are working together to make something happen, but that doesn’t mean we’re part of a group and it certainly does not mean we are intimate.
Or does it?
As human beings – as opposed to inanimate objects – we go with ourselves everywhere. Try as we may, we cannot wrap our emotional selves, our intuitive selves, our psychology, or our vulnerability in a package to leave behind while we go to work. The workplace itself is a minefield of the most triggering topics – money, self worth, group dynamics, power, authority. There are days where we feel strong and on at work and there are days when we are vulnerable and slip into language registers we regret. It’s no wonder people of all types have turned to the sage advice of teachers like Brene Brown, who speaks of the Power of Vulnerability or Mike Robbins, who advocates that we “bring our whole selves to work.”
No matter how well it’s done or how valuable it is, bringing our whole selves to work is a complicated thing. We are, in fact, working together to achieve professional goals. And achieving goals means having space to be as healthy and well balanced as we can be. What are some ways to accomplish these things without leaning so far into the casual and intimate language registers that we end up sacrificing productivity?
Create free space; don’t take responsibility.
Sometimes employees simply cannot bring their whole selves to work. Sometimes they need to be given permission to be human and deal with the affects of anxiety, depression, or other mental and emotional difficulties in the comfort of their own homes. In those cases, acknowledge that mental health is as legitimate as a common cold or flu and qualifies as a sick day (this may require some HR policy adjustments).
In other cases, employees just need to know that they are safe to be imperfect at work. While managers cannot (and should not) take the same responsibility for an employee’s health and happiness that a therapist might, they can set the example that it’s okay to admit when you’re having an off day. In fact, one RW client installed the paintings of a local artist throughout the office whose work focuses on mental health. The silent message they intended to communicate to employees and all others who entered the building was: you are safe to be yourself here.
Integrate translatable, healthy practices into regular meetings.
Most people did not grow up in homes where we were guided to practice healthy coping mechanisms. Instead, we learned to follow the examples of our parents and before we knew what were doing, we adopted habits that have either helped or hurt us in our adult lives, or both. In workplaces – whether virtual or in person – we have the perfect setup to gradually teach healthy practices that benefit the business and translate to day-to-day life.
Here are three books that can help you make healthier practices an expectation at your workplace:
Death By Meeting
This simple narrative lays out a way to make meetings something to look forward to. The concepts apply both virtually and in person and, when applied, give team members a sense of focus, consistency, and direction that in turn helps avoid unnecessary work related anxiety and frustration.
The same principles that apply to personal human relationship apply here. Humans regard each other (inside and outside company culture) on a 5-stage spectrum, from a hostile stance, to working together to change the world. Be careful with this one; as soon as your team reads it, expectations will rise as they imagine being a cohesive team that works together with the shared sentiment: We’re Great!
What We Say Matters
As hippy-dippy as it may seem, the practice of nonviolent communication is revolutionary and often life-changing. This practice requires each person to take responsibility for their feelings and reactions by the language they use. Rather than blaming others and fostering toxic in-fighting, NVC sets a formula for communication that moves team members past personal and emotional reactions to a tenor of proactive respect.
A little less conversation, a little more action (please).
In some cases, talking about how we feel can lead to emotions and even behaviors that can make things worse. In an interview with Krista Tippet, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, Medical Director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, MA, says: “We can talk till we’re blue in the face, but if our primitive part of our brain perceives something in a particular way, it’s almost impossible to talk ourselves out of it, which, of course, makes sort of verbal psychotherapy also extremely difficult because that part of the brain is so very hard to access.” He advocates for physical work that allows people to express the things they’re feeling with their bodies, and without talking.
A great example? Volunteering. Humans beings are empowered to be “agents of their own recovery” when they participate in hands on labor that seeks to solve a problem, whether through painting a school, providing disaster relief, or any other form of volunteering. Political protests are another example. We are desperate to convert the ache in our souls into physical actions and release the energy that causes the pain.
Realized Worth works with companies to take corporate volunteering programs to the next level. Reach out to discuss how we can improve and increase the impact of your program!
Readers of our blog know that we believe that employee volunteering has tremendous potential to be a positive vehicle for business involvement in local and international development initiatives. Employee volunteering is an evolution beyond traditional corporate philanthropy and a one-way flow of investment in communities to enable a more dynamic exchange between corporate employees and key stakeholder groups representing community and civil society.
Employee volunteering goes beyond typical efforts of CSR strategies in its unique utilization of social capital. Corporate volunteering programs enable employees to mobilize their personal resources for broad social benefits. The employees not only leverage the assets of the business, but combine these assets across broader social networks, utilizing trust and localized norms of cooperation.
These actions are akin to social movements that are a “purposive and collective attempt of a number of people to change individuals or societal institutions and structures.” In order to affect social movements necessary to address many of the massive social issues of today, mobilizing resources of people, money, and, most importantly, legitimacy are essential. Organizing employees and mobilizing numerous types of resources position corporations to play a key role in broadly addressing contemporary global concerns.
Applying the value
Achieving real and lasting change in the world is neither simple nor cheap. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals represent an historic effort “to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” Yet by the UN’s own admission, “it will cost $1.4tn (£920bn) a year to end extreme poverty for 700 million people and meet the other ambitious targets enshrined in the world’s new development agenda” (read more here). This kind of capital investment demands that we rethink our approach to sustainable change.
We need to consider an approach coined by Luc Lapointe known as “Blended Capital,” an investment of both financial capital and human capital in a coordinated effort utilizing the best practice of multi-stakeholder partnerships.
In an effort to provide a global mechanism for this new approach to community investment, IMPACT 2030 was launched in 2011 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 Sustainable Development Goals.
Assessing the value
Currently, there is limited insight as to the scale, scope, and overall practice of employee volunteering around the world. Complicating matters further, there is a lack of understanding as to the overall awareness of the SDGs among employees who are active in corporate volunteering and community investment programs. In order to properly assess the capacity and potential of the private sector to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs through the voluntary efforts of employees, the following questions must be addressed at a regional level:
What companies currently have some form of employee volunteering?
What is the valuation of employee volunteering as part of overall corporate community investment?
How many other companies are likely to develop a formal employee volunteering program supported by broader corporate community investments?
What is the current awareness of, and/or active alignment to, the SDGs across employee volunteering programs?
What are the barriers to increasing the application of employee volunteering programs to helping achieve the SDGs by 2030?
Mapping the value
The Realized Worth team and RW Institute have been active in regions around the world working with IMPACT 2030 Regional Voice Forums to begin mapping the capacity of employee volunteering to help achieve the SDGs. Sabrina Viva just wrapped up a workshop in Cuidad del Este, Paraguay, that received an enthusiastic response from the forum participants.
As I write this blog, Angela Parker and I are in Dubai for a workshop hosted by DP World to explore how employee volunteering can be applied towards a Blended Capital approach in the UAE and surrounding regions. It is an optimal time to explore this concept here as the UAEs President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has declared 2017 as the “Year of Giving”. Najla Al Awar, the UAE Minister of Community Development, declared that the strategic initiatives outlined as part of the UAE’s Year of Giving will “seek to organise volunteerism on the individual and corporate level and make it a way of living in the UAE society. Volunteering is certainly a significant contributor to the national economy and social well-being.”
The approach to mapping the capacity of employee volunteering is fairly straightforward. We are using an established model facilitated by SiMPACT using the LBG Model as a data collection and reporting framework. The LBG Model is recognized by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Imagine Canada, (among others), as the international standard for community investment management, measurement & reporting. The process includes the following steps:
Establish a regionally focused IMPACT 2030 Action Team to drive the project.
Conduct surveys of both the existing employee volunteering activity as well as the potential for new employee volunteering within a specific region.
Explore the potential to apply the human capital represented in employee volunteering towards helping achieve the SDGs as understood at the regional level.
Outline opportunities and barriers that must be addressed by multiple stakeholders (this includes the regional capacity to take advantage of employee volunteering).
Produce a “blueprint” with clear next steps for the region.
If you would like to explore the potential to help lead the effort in your city or region to map the capacity of employee volunteering to help achieve the SDGs as part of a Blended Capital approach, we’d love to hear from you. Email us directly at email@example.com, or find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Employee volunteers are on a journey. As a tourist, traveler, or guide, your volunteers are each at a different stage of this journey. They need to be supported and treated differently as we meet them at their highest level of contribution. This is one of the greatest feats of CSR practitioners; but with the right tools in place, the path towards transformative volunteering is closer than you think.
If you watched the Oscars this year, you may have caught Asghar Farhadi’s acceptance speech highlighting the need for empathy.
“They [the filmmakers] create empathy between us and others. An empathy that we need today more than ever.”
CSR practitioners, like filmmakers, play a unique role in creating the space for empathy to occur.
When we foster the opportunity for employees to act more prosocially through volunteering, it increases their capacity for empathy. Adam Grant found that “when jobs are relationally designed to provide opportunities for contact with beneficiaries, employees may become aware of the significance of their tasks and thereby maintain their motivation in order to have a positive impact on beneficiaries.”
As volunteers connect with beneficiaries who are outside of their typical in-group, and have a chance to critically reflect on their experience, their perceptions are challenged at a psychological, convictional, and behavioral level. This change within the individual volunteer is the foundation of transformative volunteering. This is the change we are after, creating better people, better communities, and a better world!
Why do we need to understand the stages?
Your employees might be from all different walks of life and backgrounds. Each one has experienced volunteering differently. For some, like your tourists, it’s probably their first time at bat. Volunteers that are supported and empowered to contribute at their highest level of contribution become strong ambassadors of your program and are central to your program’s success. They also become more confident in their abilities as they develop new skills and connect with the purpose of their work and the impact it has on their community and on themselves.
“Creating a great first experience is key for tourists, who are approximately 70% of your employees.”
If we can get tourists to fall in love with volunteering, they will come back to it. If we can support travelers with their leadership development, they will shine and develop as leaders. And if we can empower guides to forge the way forward, you can build your program on their shoulders and it will flourish with success.
Now, let’s build off the brief and debrief and explore the third (and final) keystone behavior: meeting your tourists, travelers, and guides at their highest level of contribution.
These folks are not hard to spot. Many of them are volunteering for the first time. They are at the stage of casual curiosity. Provide them with clear directions, experiential tasks and don’t expect a long term commitment from them right away. Creating a great first experience is key for tourists, who are approximately 70% of your employees. We need them to fall in love with volunteering so they come back to it again.
Travelers make up approximately 25% of your volunteers. At this stage of meaningful discovery, travelers are intrinsically motivated to volunteer. Because they feel a sense of belonging, they will continue to come back. Although they may ask a lot of questions and have strong opinions, support them and elevate them by assigning them leadership opportunities. They will shine and be on their way to becoming guides and ambassadors for your program.
You all know who these individuals are. This group of ambassadors makes up 5-10% of your employees. If your program is not yet built on their shoulders, get to it. Your guides are your leaders. They show up early, stay late, pick up all the supplies, invite all of their co-workers to attend, and rave about why volunteering at your company matters. At this stage, guides are intentionally aligned and intrinsically motivated. They get it! And they want everyone else to get it too.
So now that you understand each stage, how do you recognize them and what do they need from you?
Here’s a cool reference chart:Empathy in Motion is open for enrollment now! Starting March 14, 2017, the course offers a new perspective on the power of volunteering that goes beyond the traditional transactional model. Anyone can enroll and can share course details with colleagues, other volunteers, and even family and friends. If you want more details on how to work with your volunteers at each stage, you’ll have to sign up and join us for the free online course.
You can view or download more information at rw.institute including outlines, overviews, and frequently asked questions. You can simply enroll right now by visiting openSAP.
Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs for companies around the world. Want to discuss your program with us? We’ll be happy to hear from you! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
1. You’re pretty sure companies only volunteer to improve their PR and create appearances of doing good.
To be honest, we think most companies volunteer for their own benefit (in addition to the benefit of the employees and the community) – and that’s a good thing! We also find that it’s typically about more than PR. In our free online course Empathy in Motion, we’ll share the typical reasons companies volunteer, better reasons to volunteer, and even the potential financial benefit companies may gain from volunteering.
2. You’re tired of volunteering to paint a wall or plant some shrubs – you want to see some real impact!
We are right there with you! Traditional volunteer projects are good, but they’re often not good enough. In the second half of the course, we’ll take a deep dive with you into the differences between transactional and transformative volunteering. What does it look like? Why is it more impactful? With this information, we hope to offer a reminder of what inspires you to give back to the community and empowers you to offer meaningful experiences to others.
3. You sometimes plan and lead volunteer events and you could use some practical tips on how to quickly and easily make them more meaningful.
Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence says, “managers with excellent cognitive empathy get better than expected performance from their direct reports.” On a larger scale, empathy is what drives us to defend, protect, and care for each other. Volunteering can be a safe, nonthreatening space to develop empathy for others – and it’s not difficult to create the conditions for this to happen. In Empathy in Motion, we’ll teach you how to frame the volunteer experience to open up people’s minds to new ideas and inspire them to adopt new ways of thinking and being.
4. You’ve heard that volunteering can be a leadership development tool, but …
… how? Is there any research to back this up? As employee volunteering programs pick up speed, more and more research is being conducted to measure the personal and professional benefits of volunteering – including leadership development. Studies have been done that demonstrate how volunteering produces increased resilience, broader influence, hard and soft skills, expanded networks, and more. We’ll list some of the most interesting recent statistics and what you can do to integrate leadership development tactics into your company’s volunteer program – or into your own volunteer work.
5. You could use some quick and dirty tips on how to solve some of the logistical challenges that come up during volunteer events.
Ever wanted to hear from someone funny and creative (our very own Chris Jarvis, for one) on how to solve challenges that tend to present themselves during volunteer events? For example, is there a clever way for experienced volunteers to get newer volunteers to take on more responsibility without looking lazy? Or – what do you do when you want to hold a brief before the event starts, but everyone is late? Listen to these and other fun examples and ideas in Empathy in Motion.
6. You want to measure impact, but you have no idea how to do it or what to measure.
This is an exciting trend in the field of CSR and corporate citizenship and we are excited to participate in solving it! Join us to learn the categories that must be measured in employee volunteer programs in order to report on impact. We’ll make an effort to address the most pressing questions like:
How do you measure engagement?
How is impact defined?
Is it possible to measure these things without adding resources to my team?
We’ll also tell you how the categories of measurement interrelate, and we’ll provide some practical steps for applying them to your employee volunteer program.
Empathy in Motion: The Power of Employee Volunteering is a free online course and it’s open for enrollment now! Starting March 14, 2017, the course offers a new perspective on the power of volunteering that goes beyond the traditional transactional model. Anyone can enroll and can share course details with colleagues, other volunteers, and even family and friends.
Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs for companies around the world. Want to discuss your program with us? We’ll be happy to hear from you! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.