How employers can encourage their workers to give back to community

Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 7:08 p.m.

Q: I recently heard the founder of Tom's Shoes speak at a conference about the importance of employers encouraging and supporting opportunities for employees to “give back” to their communities as a way to build connection and loyalty. I'd like to do that in my small business but I'm not sure where to start. Any suggestions?

A: The founder of Tom's Shoes makes a good point: Employers will benefit greatly when they support employees giving back to their communities.

Of course, employers can become good corporate citizens by supporting good causes and developing a philanthropic reputation without ever involving employees, and they'd still enjoy good publicity and PR. But I think what he's emphasizing is that there's a much larger benefit to be had when companies include employees as part of their corporate citizenship and also encourage them to “give back” for themselves.

When employees feel supported by their employers to give back to their community, they tend to build a stronger connection to the organization. They feel proud to work there — like the company cares for more than just the bottom line. And this makes them more engaged and productive.

There are other benefits. Certain activities like community-wide campaigns that require employees to work together can result in improved teamwork and cooperation inside the organization. I've seen employees who would've never interacted through their jobs serve on the same committee and stay friends for good. Employees can also learn new skills while volunteering that they can incorporate into their everyday life.

So how can you support your employees? Some ideas:

Promote and sponsor volunteer opportunities.

Provide lots of recognition — use the intranet and social media to highlight employees' involvement.

Get involved yourself. Employees get motivated when the boss joins them.

Make it fun. Create a bowling team, use it to fundraise.

Match employee contributions with a company gift.

Provide time off or a flexible schedule to volunteer.

As a small employer, you may not be able to provide a $12,000 match like Microsoft. But your company can still benefit when you create a sense of team and community, where employee and company can take pride in being generous with both time and money.

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