Corporate America is obsessed with employee engagement. And why not? Gallup’s annual reports on employee engagement tell us that engaged employees give approximately 57% more effort and are 87% less likely to resign. Organizations with above-average levels of employee engagement reap 147% higher earnings per share. When both customer and employee engagement are above average, they experience a 240% jump in performance-related business outcomes.
Given these tantalizing numbers, company leaders are naturally scrambling to figure out why less than one-third of employees are engaged these days. Only one in five employees trust business leaders to tell the truth on difficult issues. Fifty percent of employees would not recommend their employer to peers. No surprise, then, that according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends, employee engagement and culture issues have risen to become the No. 1 business challenge around the world.
But amidst the frenzied search for engagement solutions, there’s one that I see constantly being overlooked: corporate volunteerism. Study after study show how employees of every stripe - Millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers, women - all place meaning and purpose as one of if not the single highest job priority for them. And I see through my own work in helping companies manage their volunteer and giving programs that when business leaders put some focus on improving the world they also improve the relationships that employees have with their managers, colleagues and communities.
Purpose-filled work; greater respect from and towards managers; opportunities to develop skills and leadership; teamwork settings and bonding with colleagues over a shared mission that’s meaningful; and building deeper relationships into the community through the brand ambassadorship of passionate employees - all of this is the natural byproduct of employee-led corporate philanthropy. The springboard of corporate volunteering and giving elevates the emotional experience that employees have with their jobs.
The link between volunteering and engagement is particularly acute with millennials. According to the Six-Month Research Update to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, millennials who stay at their jobs for more than five years are passionate about their work and feel bonded with their co-workers by a belief in their company’s mission and purpose. This report notes that millennials want to volunteer together and feel connected through a shared passion for their company’s cause work, ideally through initiatives that help their surrounding community. Culture is everything; for millennials, the company’s philosophy around giving back must be integrated into its core mission.
Many of the same things that keep millennials at their jobs are what drew them there in the first place. For these young professionals, one of the very top considerations for applying for a job is the company’s work culture, involvement with causes, office environment, and attention to diversity and HR standards. According to the study, companies that are adapting their CSR strategies to attract millennials, and specifically incorporating causes into their culture, are more successful at attracting and retaining millennials as employees.
Regardless of generation, employee engagement can never be linked to just one cause. But so much of the discussion about engagement focuses on tactics rather than culture. A strong employee volunteer and giving program is the foundation of a corporate environment that is inspiring, motivating and - yes - engaging, and as such should be at the forefront of any discussion about employee engagement.