During the best of times, people searching for employment used to ask themselves, “What can this company do for me?” with regard to securing a corner office, an expense account, or numerous other perks. But young employees currently entering the work force – the ‘Millennial generation‘ or ‘Generation Y’ – are asking questions more geared toward social issues: “What will this company enable me to do to improve the world at large, while pursuing philanthropic interests?”
Today, businesses are no longer fundamentally attractive to this new breed of potential employees for writing checks to charities or for sponsoring tables at benefits. Now, companies must not only talk the talk, but they must let their employees walk the walk as well – paying staff their normal wages to volunteer during working hours. But as the age old saying goes: “you reap what you sow,” and the benefits come full circle so everyone wins.
As evidenced in a survey referenced in The Wall Street Journal, “For many young job hunters, a prominent employee-volunteerism program is a strong selling point. A 2006 survey of 1,800 13-to-25-year-olds found that 79 percent want to work for a company that cares about how it affects or contributes to society. Sixty-four percent said their employer’s social and environmental activities inspire loyalty.”
One company that goes above and beyond when it comes to affording their employees the ability to volunteer while footing the bill is Patagonia. According to their website, “employees can leave their jobs to work for the environmental group of their choice. Patagonia continues to pay their salaries and benefits while they’re gone, and environmental groups worldwide get them for free. To date, more than 750 employees have taken part in the program.” Last July, in response to the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf, Patagonia sent up to 10 employees per week to Louisiana, paying them their regular salaries in addition to all of their expenses while in the Gulf region, to assist their environmental partner, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in creating an Oil Spill Crisis Map to detect where the need for help was most imminent.
What goes around comes around. Patagonia reckons that, “volunteers return with a powerful sense of purpose and accomplishment that inspires their colleagues and encourages other employees to work on behalf of the natural world.”
At first glance, it may seem counter-intuitive to some employers to send their staff out to work for other people while on the clock, but evidence that doing so comes full circle in a highly beneficial light may sway even the most traditional thinkers. According to a study done at The University of Florida, “employees who volunteered felt more connected to their companies and were more likely to work harder on tasks… They spoke positively about their employer in public and were less likely to daydream, cyber loaf or take extra time off work… Employees felt a stronger bond with their company because they believed it shared their ideals in caring about the community, and they were more likely to be better employees because of it.”
Additionally, sending workers outside the office broadens not only their perspective, but also their skill set. ‘On the job’ training takes place on a much greater canvas, with the world as a backdrop. Evan Hochberg, National Director of Community Involvement, Deloitte Services LP offers, “Volunteering with non-profits is important for the community, but it also greatly benefits the volunteer… Skills-based volunteering, in particular, can give younger employees a chance to develop their management, teamwork, communication and leadership skills, as well as their technical skills.”
Companies are cluing in to this trend, and recognizing how it will be a boon to business. “A Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship 2009 study found 83 percent of large corporations think it is important to have employees volunteer. In that same study, 62 percent of employees said they’d rather work for a company that allows volunteer opportunities.”
While some small businesses may not have the financial means to pay employees to volunteer outside the office, the benefits don’t necessarily come packaged in an ‘all or nothing’ scenario. Employers can organize company wide events, encouraging employees from all levels within to participate on common ground, volunteering in support of a charitable cause. Working toward a common goal with group effort will help foster the same outcome of increased camaraderie, enhanced company loyalty, and broadened perspective. As Winston Churchill said, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” To attract today’s best employees, the work/life balance must be understood, supported and lauded.