How community involvement creates a better workplace

Jonathan Holth, JLG Architects

We’ve all been there: that place where you’re trying to figure out the all-important work/life equation. Some people spend their whole career trying to balance this equation, and some never balance it at all.

On the surface, the answer seems simple: work less and spend more time with family and friends. Problem solved. Unfortunately for most, it doesn’t work that way.

Work is hard, and we have expectations to meet. Plus we all want to advance our careers, and it’s hard to see how stepping back from professional responsibilities will help that happen.

No wonder community involvement and volunteerism are seldom at the forefront of work-life discussions. But in fact, creating community involvement and encouraging volunteerism can make people into better employees and better co-workers – and in doing so, can even create better workplaces. How so?

Recent data can show us.

  • According to Deloitte’s 2017 Volunteerism Survey, 89 percent of the American workforce believe that companies that sponsor and encourage volunteer activities offer better overall working environments than companies that do not.
  • Seventy percent of respondents said that volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than are company-sponsored happy hours, and 77 percent said “volunteering is essential to employee well-being.”
    So, how can your company take advantage of this perception?

Maybe you already are. Or do you just think you are?

Because in that same survey, only a third of respondents believe their company provides access to volunteer programs, while two-thirds say they just don’t have any time during the day to dedicate to community service.

Clearly, everyone’s trying to figure out work-life balance, but only a comparative few are succeeding.

That should change. Because the fact is, employers can benefit in many ways from their employees’ community service, besides simply feeling good as a company about giving back.

One real benefit involves leadership skills. Studies show that participating in community service can play a big role in developing vital leadership skills.

Furthermore, getting out of the workplace and engaging with one’s neighbors and fellow citizens teaches skills such as conflict resolution, effective communication, problem-solving and striving for results rather than credit.

And learning how to talk with people of different backgrounds and interests is a skill that can’t be enhanced enough.

Here’s another benefit: recruitment and retention. In Deloitte’s survey, almost 80 percent of respondents said that a company’s commitment to the community would be a factor in their choosing between two jobs.

Additionally, employees who took part in company-sponsored community engagement felt more loyal to their company than those who didn’t, and by almost a 2-to-1 margin.

Third, customers are watching. At civic and charitable events, people notice that certain companies always have a strong contingent of their employees participating. It’s obvious, and it’s an indicator of how potential employees as well as the public view your company and its culture.

Ask people which local companies come to mind when they think of “community.” You’ll notice that a select few make everyone’s list.

So, what can Prairie Business readers do about it? In a perfect world, every company would carve out a certain amount of time for employees to participate in community service each month. But this isn’t a perfect world.

More realistically, companies can start just by talking about the subject. For example, at company meetings, a leader could ask his or her team members what they’ve done in the community recently, and what have been the results. Another question: How could other co-workers get involved?

Employees also could be asked if there are barriers to volunteering that the company could help them overcome. For example, could the company encourage teams to line up a community activity and schedule, say, a half-day to get out of the office and give back?

However readers proceed, they should just know that having an office full of active and engaged citizens makes for not only a stronger community, but also a stronger workplace.