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Improve Employee Happiness with Workplace Philanthropy

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Cori Hammoor • Marketing Manager

We interviewed Wendy Gilbert, 10+ year People and HR Expert and current Director of People Operations at Brainium. With employee engagement and happiness as her favorite research topic, we discussed the latest trends and approaches to keep employees happy with the power of workplace philanthropy. 

Companies need to be conscious of workplace philanthropy if they want to survive the incoming generation. Social impact is important to today’s top talent, and the talent market dictates priorities.

Below Gilbert shared her expert advice on the need and efficacy of social impact programs as they make a difference, not only in the world but to top talent. 

Workplace philanthropy is important. “And the market dictates, right?”

Gilbert explained some of the many reasons why social impact programs are so important for attracting, engaging, and retaining today’s talent:

Decreases turnover 

Turnover is the most destructive and expensive item in a company. To retain talent, employees need to be happy at work. This means employees need a sense of belonging, need a sense of impact, and feel like they are a part of something greater. Gilbert explained:

One thing that keeps HR professionals up at night is that human resources are expensive and disruptive. If you start to have an increase in turnover, you lose money, time, and management attention. This can lead to employees picking up a negative message about the company’s direction, regardless of the reality, which will only lead to less employee engagement.

For example, at a previous company, I was moving on for reasons of lack of growth opportunities and other internal issues. My resignation was the first of seven resignations in the company in the next three weeks. And then it kept bleeding and hemorrhaging from there.

One of the most destructive things for HR and business is turnover. But, if you can retain people, it shows that your people are happy at work. When I'm looking at how I keep my people happy, it's a sense of impact. That's a big thing for today’s top talent. They want a sense of belonging and to feel like they're part of something greater. And that's where they want to spend their time because the quality of life has more emphasis in this generation than just money and hours.

Increases top talent attraction

Top talent cares about how companies give back to the community. As a result, workplace philanthropy is a determining element in their job search process, as Gilbert shared:

The great thing about these up and coming generations, Millennials and Gen Z, is that giving and sharing has been ingrained in them as a citizen.

More and more, we're hearing, ‘I don't care if you pay a little bit more than this other company; how do you give back to the community?’

We get those questions so much from interviewees and internally. The number one request that employees ask right now is ‘how can we expand our giving? So I’ve put it in my recruiting messages, ‘Here's who we are, here's our pay, here's our benefits, here's your culture, and here's our giving.’

Improves employee happiness

For employees to be happy, they must build relationships with each other, their community, and the company. Gilbert expressed these relationships are often better built through meaningful shared experiences, instead of a happy hour:

When companies expand, they're doing so on the backs of their employees. But most employers, no matter how well they're doing, will always feel like they can't spend more money. If you're having this turnover problem, more people seem to have a bad attitude, and the culture is suffering, then ask leadership, ‘can you invest your money?’

Some of my best team outings have always been around volunteering or philanthropy. It gave an activity to share even if we didn't have anything in common. It’s a bonding experience versus sitting at a happy hour over a drink I don't want and talking to people trying to figure out how not to get too personal but get to know them a bit more. It's weird. And most relationships that last and become rich are based on shared experiences. By giving back, people have this shared experience in a meaningful way, and it’s great for the company.

There also needs to be a basic understanding of employees’ personal passions. Identifying employees’ passions helps drive inclusive, authentic employee engagement. And giving as a company drives employee happiness, which is great for business. It’s even scientifically proven – scientists recently found a neural link to prove giving increases happiness

Prevents & mitigates company crises

To survive as a company, leadership must understand their peoples’ passions.

It's about being aware. If your company is to thrive, leadership needs to be aware of perspectives other than their own. They need to work with their people, especially when it comes to giving because if only leadership dictates where everyone is giving, they're not going to get that engagement. They're not going to get that great sense they would have by a program that's in touch and listens to their employees.

So I think if companies want to be successful and keep their workforce engaged, they need to listen to and survey their workforce. They can get more informed about what's important to employees and then be the company employees and top talent want to work for.

How to build an effective workplace giving program

There are many ways to add social impact to your business. Here are a couple of action items Gilbert discussed:

Take a grassroots approach. 

Employees that share the company’s passion and are supported in their personal passions are the most engaged.

The reason why an employee left their previous job is something they take with them. It comes down to their experience. Companies keep talking about having these values, and then when it comes down to it, it's not only how you treat your people, but it's also how you allow them to give back in meaningful ways. When employees give back in ways that hit home for them, they are more engaged.

By addressing people’s passions, where they tend to give and what they deem to be about, you give people a chance to share in the company's passion.

Survey employees to get real data.

To ensure your social impact program is effective, it has to align with both employees and the company’s passions.

One way to do workplace philanthropy effectively is making sure that your program is in line with what your people are passionate about. For example, if my company exclusively gave to cats, that would alienate all my dog people. So part of what I do is being in touch with people and getting data on that.

Ask, ‘What are your interests? Where would you like to see this?’ Again, it’s about getting data by surveying your people to see how they give back and what's important to them. If you just wait for people to speak up, you only hear the few brave people who are outgoing enough to speak to leadership.

Of those companies that don't have a workplace giving program of some sort, do they know what their employees want? For those employees that aren’t ‘the brave ones,’ how do you know what they want? Send out an anonymous survey and say, ‘if we could do this, how important would this be to you?’ Get real data. Then I think many business owners will know how their people feel rather than thinking they already know.

HR is not a revenue-generating position, but we maintain revenue generation by keeping people happy and keeping people productive.

Be authentic.

Top talent isn’t impressed with a large donation, especially when larger funds go into promoting their act of kindness. Instead, they want to be a part of the workplace philanthropy, as Gilbert explained:

We are done with the days where companies have their main focus on their cause marketing. In fact, they're getting more criticism for donating a million dollars and then spending 50 million on advertising their generous donation. But instead, people are asking, ‘How do we as a company give back? How can I be involved?’

Add to your perks and benefits. 

Use your positive social impact as a benefit since it is a core question top talent and employees ask for.

A company’s social impact should be seen more as a benefit. Since it is one of the most common questions we receive, we include a company giving program with paid volunteer time off in our list of benefits. It's even a part of my recruiting messages, ‘Here's who we are, here's our pay, here's our benefits, here's your culture, and here's our giving.’

The actionable steps above should have provided you with a couple of new ways to take your employee happiness and workplace philanthropy programs to the next level. And know that Percent Pledge is here – we are happy to chat about your next steps to continued employee engagement and happiness.

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