I often hear feedback from CSR leaders who lament the challenge of busy employees.
Companies everywhere are populated by workhorses who are overcommitted, under-resourced and scrambling to unbury themselves from a towering pile of to-dos. “Volunteering is wonderful,” think many of these folks, “whenever there’s a spare moment to get to it.” Followed by: “But let’s get real: it’s an extracurricular for others, the ones who have the luxury of time.”
How can CSR leaders shift the narrative, for both employees who are weighing their time and senior leaders who are weighing resources?
First, let’s look at the irony here; volunteering is a leading priority for most of us. Data shows that the opportunity to give back is one of the top aspects that a majority of us consider before applying for or accepting a new job.
But higher goals often get set aside when we’re drowning. And when volunteering feels disjointed from a company’s culture, it’s easy to feel like the overwhelm of our day jobs can’t accommodate one more thing.
That’s why volunteer participation rates at most companies are so low.
This sort of internal contradiction between aspirations and reality sows seeds of discontent at work and in life. In other words; when we can’t match our priorities with our possibilities, we get unhappy fast.
And employee unhappiness isn’t just a problem for employees; it’s a problem for their companies. In fact, a report on employee happiness by staffing agency Robert Haft International concludes that employee happiness is pivotal to organizational success.
What is employee happiness? The report, which surveyed 12,000 workers, notes that it’s an umbrella term for something much larger, where employees are able to access a wide range of positive emotions, including hope, optimism, confidence, gratitude, inspiration and awe, among others. Workplace happiness can be boiled down to three core positive emotions: enthusiasm, interest and contentment.
Happiness doesn’t mean rainbows and kittens every minute of every day. At the workplace, what it does mean is an overall sense of forward momentum, satisfaction and meaning.
Since workplace happiness is crucial to the long-term health of organizations, it’s important that leaders understand the various causes at play. Research shows that happy employees share several characteristics:
They’re more resilient and loyal
They’re the most persuasive advocates for organizations
They do better work, at both the individual and team level
They’re more productive
They tend to be more creative and innovative
So what does employee happiness have to do with volunteering at work?
The study shows that workers who feel proud of their companies are 2.8 times more likely to be happy at work compared to those who don’t. In fact, the #1 driver of happiness at work globally is “pride in their organization.” Pride is also the top driver of happiness in male workers, and the top driver of work happiness within each age category of workers. For women, “pride in their organization” is the #2 driver of happiness at work, second only to “being treated with fairness and respect.” And “pride in their organization” is also the #1 or #2 driver of work happiness across a range of different professions.
Many factors underlie the feeling of pride an employee has in his organization, but how a company gives back to its community is certainly one natural thread. And when employees are empowered to play a central role in how their companies make a social impact, those feelings of pride can balloon even further.
Indeed, one of the six factors that the report cites as influencing employee happiness is “a sense of empowerment.” But twenty-three percent of the survey’s respondents say they have little or no control over their work; 27 percent feel they have few or no opportunities to be creative. And yet this feeling of autonomy and freedom is closely linked to employee happiness.
Other factors influencing employee happiness are interesting and meaningful work and positive workplace relationships. And offering empathy and support for work-life balance is so important that the report categorizes this as a risk management measure.
As we see so often, corporate volunteer programs can serve as ideal vehicles by which to power the most rewarding qualities that employees crave in a job. Strong programs empower employees to have a voice in the direction of the impact efforts of their companies and themselves. The best programs use giving back to foster team building, and to create a sense of purpose for employees that goes beyond their day to day tasks.
Empowerment, relationships, meaning - it’s all there in well-run corporate volunteer programs. This is the narrative that CSR managers need to underscore to their leadership and employees, to help make the case for why engaging in a company’s social impact is connected to our “regular” jobs.
Above all, the strongest volunteer programs don’t add to an employee’s sense of obligations, or complicate her work-life balance; they help employees feel that something they value in their real life - giving back - is integrated into their work. When volunteering is seamlessly woven within the fabric of a company, it can be perceived as not only effortless and efficient, but irresistible.
Employees who participate in well-executed volunteer programs are bound to experience an uptick in their workplace happiness quotient, and that happiness can serve as a powerful marketing tool for others to get involved. When you look at the data around the significant advantage of a happy workplace and the ways in which volunteer and giving programs address so many of the requirements for employee happiness, it’s clear that a strong program is worth an investment of thought and resources by management so that employees are more likely to participate.
Once companies get the ball rolling and create a real culture shift around giving back, fewer employees find excuses and more employees find time.
And that makes everyone happy.