Better than Happy Hour: Community Service Improves Company Culture and Purpose

Kristin Robertson, CEO, Brio Leadership

July 28, 2017

“People are tired of going to a happy hour with their work colleagues,” says Hussain Manjee, Chief Success Officer at DHD Films in Dallas, TX.  “Instead, we do community service events.  In one afternoon, our team can build relationships, make an impact and have a fun time.”  DHD Films, along with many other companies small and large, are discovering the importance and effectiveness of community service in building a positive company culture.  These companies find that community service, one component of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is an important aspect of living out their core values.

Research indicates that actively participating in company-sponsored volunteer activities increases employee engagement.  The 2011 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey of employees ages 21-35 determined that millennials who frequently participate in workplace volunteer activities are nearly twice as likely to rate their corporate culture as very positive and feel more loyalty to their company. In another study, researchers found, “The more available, hands on and integrated corporate citizenship is in an organization, the more it will positively impact employee engagement scores” (Ketvirtis, 2012).  My research in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas region confirms these results.

DHD Films, a mid-sized marketing video producer, is a member of Entrepreneurs for North Texas (EFNT), a program of Communities Foundation of Texas based in Dallas, which helps small to mid-sized North Texas companies do good in their communities.   Tina Young, CEO of MarketWave, another EFNT-member company, labels the EFNT program her “outsourced corporate social responsibility team” because the EFNT staff works with her employees to design, plan and implement impactful community service projects, some of which are unique to MarketWave.  Because Young’s employees are paid for the time they volunteer, she observes, “It’s really important that these service events are well-planned so our employees don’t just sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do.”

The highlight of EFNT’s service programs is Freedom Day, conducted yearly on September 11 to commemorate the lives lost and forever changed in the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. On that day every year, EFNT member companies and their employees volunteer a day of service at multiple charities, typically focused on veterans or working alongside Veterans, in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In 2016, over 750 volunteers representing over 55 companies worked on community service projects organized and implemented by EFNT staff members and volunteers. My company participated last year by cleaning up a community garden at Equest, a center that helps children and adults, especially veterans, through equine therapy.  In addition to gardening, other sub-groups painted fences and cleared brush from trails at the equine facility.

All the companies that I interviewed paid their team members to volunteer on Freedom Day on September 11.  Companies varied in their treatment of additional service hours: some gave their employees time off during the work day to serve, others expected employees to volunteer on their own time. At SFMG Wealth Advisors, employees have eight hours a year of Volunteer Time Off (VTO) in addition to their day of service on September 11. For any company, it is a huge expense to close the office for even one day a year, so every EFNT member’s involvement on Freedom Day is a financial demonstration of their commitment to service.

Benefits of Team-based Community Service

What results can you expect when you engage employees in community service as a team?  Here’s a list compiled from EFNT members:

1.      Increased teamwork and employee engagement

Community service projects can be physically demanding and altogether different from the work you typically perform in an office.  Adversity, according to EFNT members, builds teamwork and employee engagement.  Tad McIntosh of HumCap, a staffing and recruiting firm in Plano, TX, tells a story that demonstrates the teambuilding effectiveness of a day of community service:

“I send all my employees to Freedom Day.  One year, we were assigned to paint an enclosed stairwell at the Veteran’s Administration building.  This was a meaningful assignment for us, because our executive team members are all ex-military.  It was 95 degrees outside and there was no air conditioning in that stairwell.  It was gritty work, but it built teamwork.  We took turns bringing each other drinking water and managed to finish the painting job without any heat stroke.  We went out as a company to get ice cream afterwards!  Despite hard conditions, this was the most impactful day of service we’ve ever done.”

Melissa Hawkins of SFMG Wealth Advisors observed that when their company participates in community service, it offers employees an opportunity to see each other in a different light that can break down barriers between them. She talked about their first Freedom Day, saying, “We closed the firm for the day and all went to work on a veteran’s project at a home for people who needed medical care.  We painted, dug up weeds and gardened.  It was hot, sweaty and dirty.  By the end, our CEO was completely covered with mud and dirt.  We teased him saying, ‘You don’t even mow your own yard!’  To see him in that element was so cool.”  What a great way to send the message that community service is a job for everyone, including the CEO!

2.      Ease in recruiting good employees and increased retention of good people.

Tina Young of Market Wave says, “In the time we’ve been involved in EFNT, our employee attrition rates have plummeted from 40-45% to 7% per year.  That represents real savings for us.”  Millennials especially are drawn and retained by companies that espouse a purpose higher than making money.  They expect companies to make good on their promises to be a purpose- or value-driven organization, and if not, millennials are not afraid to vote with their feet and move to a different company.  At Young’s firm, over 80% of the employees are young, so the firm’s commitment to community service is a big driver in employee retention.

A preference for community service seems to be an early indicator of a good hire.  McIntosh (of HumCap) noticed the benefits of hiring candidates who are attracted to his company’s community involvement, saying “Although it’s hard to quantify how community service impacts our company, I know that the employees who are most passionate about community service are also our best employees.”   Therefore, HumCap’s hiring interviews have several questions about the candidate’s passion for community service.

A sense of purpose greater than making money is an important aspect of serving the community as a team.  Manjee says, “I give my team the time to serve (they’re getting paid for it) and that contributes to our sense of purpose as a company.  When you align to purpose, both employee retention and the sense of family increases.”

3.      High potential employees have an opportunity to learn leadership skills

Sejal Desai, Program Director of Entrepreneurs for North Texas, says that participating in planning community service projects as an Engagement Captain can be a stretch assignment for an up-and-coming leader in the company.  It gives that person the opportunity to plan, implement and motivate people to participate in the service event, all under the watchful eye of EFNT.  (I suspect that Sejal does a good bit of mentoring and coaching during this process, which is another plus for the young leaders.) This opportunity to lead may not be otherwise available at a small firm, so it’s an invaluable leadership development program.

4.      It provides good networking opportunities

Young of MarketWave notes, “An added bonus to EFNT membership is, we are serving alongside other like-minded member companies.  We’ve met people who become vendor partners, or referral sources for our company.  Natural connections have happened.”  EFNT member companies tend to value their company culture, especially the value of giving back to the community, and tend to have a purpose-driven business that is enhanced by corporate social responsibility.

5.      It involves families of employees and trains the next generation of philanthropists

Hawkins of SFMG Wealth Advisors says her firm invited families to Freedom Day for the first time in 2016 because 9/11 fell on a Sunday that year.  She brought her two teenagers, a daughter and a son with her.  Her kids got to know her colleagues by working side by side with them at a tree farm.  At the end of the day, her daughter said: “Mom, now I know why you like to volunteer.  This was really cool!”  Melissa is happy that her son and daughter have experienced the satisfaction of serving people in need.

The member companies of Entrepreneurs for North Texas agree: Community service events are better than a happy hour for building teamwork and employee engagement.  Have you considered a tax-deductible membership in EFNT for your company?

For those of you who don’t live in North Texas, but are interested getting your company involved in community service, here are some resources to refer to:

Notes:

Deloitte, 2011. 2011 Executive Summary: Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey. https://volunteer.ca/content/deloitte-2011-deloitte-volunteer-impact-survey-executive-summary

Ketvirtis, Sarah, 2012. How Corporate Citizenship Impacts Employee Engagement. http://www.sesp.northwestern.edu/masters-learning-and-organizational-change/knowledge-lens/stories/2012/how-corporate-citizenship-impacts-employee-engagement.html

Kristin Robertson, MA, PCC

Kristin Robertson is President & Senior Executive Coach of Brio Leadership, a firm dedicated to increasing the number of people excited to go to work on Monday morning. She offers leadership development training, coaching and consulting to help you develop a positive company culture. She can be reached at kristin@brioleadership.com or visit her website at www.brioleadership.com

 

 

 

 

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